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Michael Formanek - The Rub and Spare Change (ECM, 2010)

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Bassist Michael Formanek is a well known presence on the creative music scene, but usually as a band member rather than a leader. ECM rectifies this situation by releasing this thoughtful and patient album, filled with excellent playing and composing. Joining Formanek are Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The music has a fascinating sense of haunted mystery about it beginning with “Twenty Three Neo" that builds from a noirish late night soundscape which seems to aurally represent the beautifully stark cover photo. Taborn's probing, spare piano is the lynch pin holding everything together here as it does throughout the album, he just plays with taste, economy and adventure throughout. “The Rub and Spare Change" opens quirky with a prickly melody which Berne weaves into an undulating solo backed by propulsive drums and piano comping. The music slows and becomes more resonant with long tones of saxophone amidst lush piano and bass. Strong bass also underpins the fast paced “Inside the Box" with excellent collective improvisation and a superb piano led interlude. “Jack's Last Call" begins with spacious and reflective sounds, Berne sitting out as the trio slowly builds a powerful performance. The lengthy “Tonal Suite" develops in a fluid dynamic way, with raw toned saxophone rubbing up against crystalline piano. Building to a delightful full band improvisation, this is the centerpiece of the album. The dynamic “Two Big To Fail" concludes the album with strong piano comping and anguished saxophone. This was a consistently excellent album, the group played with great restraint, allowing the music to speak for itself. Taborn in particular was amazing, playing from a seemingly endless wellspring of ideas. Classy modern jazz. The Rub & Spare Change—amazon.com

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This story appears courtesy of Music and More by Tim Niland.
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