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Album of the Week: Fields of Moons, Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band

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Fields of Moons
Chris Washburne And The SYOTOS Band
Jazzheads

There are many different sides to an artist's personality and recordings give them an opportunity to explore these various facets. Setting the right context inspires an artist to focus upon a certain musical approach without distraction. Specific instrumental combinations, repertoire collections, or new collaborators all bring out distinct aspects of an individual's musicality. Artists might touch upon several sides of their personality during an album, using a number of contexts to create variety. This common tactic keeps a listener's attention and it challenges the musician to maintain a broad skill set. It generally allows a musician to lean upon their strengths on several tunes and still apply their bag of tricks in slightly less comfortable arenas. Full immersion into one context and one side of an artist's musicality forces the musician to dig deeper into themselves. They need to creatively shape the context to reflect their musical statements and challenge themselves to find ways to keep that one piece of their musicality fresh over the long haul. While this approach may require more thought from the musician, the results can reveal new and exciting expressions of creativity. Trombonist Chris Washburne takes his SYOTOS Band in an unexpected direction on Fields of Moons, focusing upon the band's softer side, delivering a wealth of surprising musical treasures.

Original Compositions And Arrangements From Washburne
Several pieces find Washburne taking full advantage of the opportunity to explore a softer side with original compositions and arrangements that place him in an exposed setting. Pianist Barry Olsen lays down a gentle chordal background for Washburne's touching melody on “Fields Of Moons," soon joined by trumpet player John Walsh and saxophonist Ole Mathisen, who frame the theme with rich harmonies. Drummer Diego Lopez leaps into an active cymbal pattern behind Washburne, allowing him to wind poignant melodies with a rhythmic edge through the chord structure. Mathisen's soprano sax cuts through the rhythm section, bringing his smart lines alive with a razor-edged tone. Washburne reveals a thoughtful perspective on Pedro Flores' “Obsesión," as he interprets the melody with clever flourishes and bluesy embellishments over a sparse chordal accompaniment from bassist Leo Traversa. The rhythm section joins Washburne with a bolero on the bridge, leading into a lyrical improvisation from Walsh on flugelhorn and a rhythmic solo from Olsen, who plays upon the style with strong tipico phrases. Washburne's forceful statement takes the group back to the melody until Walsh explodes into screaming solo over a driving cha cha cha. Long notes from Washburne climb and fall around a 6/8 pattern on his “Seas Of Slumber," thickening into moving chords as Walsh and Mathisen join him. The trombonist builds a strong statement with subtle syncopations while Walsh provides contrast with flowing melodies that float over the steady pulse. Mathisen jumps into his improvisation with a fiery collection of quick runs and screeching articulations that send the band charging into the melody. In a simultaneously light hearted and fun moment, Washburne moves onto tuba for the Louis Alter and Edgar De Lange piece “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," providing fat lazy bass lines and an irresistible melody. Switching back to trombone, Washburne contributes a soulful improvisation filled with memorable melodies, until Mathisen captures the New Orleans connection with an attention grabbing clarinet solo. Olsen spins a happy statement around the chord changes, and after a return to the melody Washburne, Walsh, and Mathisen exchange ideas in a joyful dixieland style. Washburne boldly places himself in this context, enthusiastically pushing his musicianship and exposing a rich side of his personality.

Contributions From SYOTOS Band Members
Members of the SYOTOS Band also take the plunge into the album's overall context, contributing several inspiring songs. An understated piano vamp leads into a moody theme from Mathisen on the saxophonist's “Non Spoken," as an airy drum feel and tense harmonies surround the melody. Washburne moves into his improvisation with a respectful grace, combining slow reflective phrases with flashes of fire. Mathisen moves his tenor sax through deeply focused ideas, leaving space between his emotionally charged phrases for sensitive interaction from Rivera. Long notes from Washburne float over a steady bolero on Olsen's “Long Time Coming," as Walsh and Mathisen surround the melody with soft supporting lines that emphasize the beautiful harmony. Olsen travels through a spirited improvisation that bounces around the rhythm section, reflecting Rivera's inspired dips into swing. Mathisen builds upon Olsen's forward motion with an energetic statement that falls into an engaging solo from Washburne who provokes animated response from the rhythm section. Walsh and Mathisen send tightly connected lines sailing over a driving cha cha cha on the saxophonist's “Evening Rites," leading into a staggered melodic exchange between all three wind players. Washburne thrusts his way through the rhythm section's powerful groove, with strong thematic development and sharp jabbing syncopations. Mathisen structures his ideas around clearly evolving lines, sending the group racing into Walsh's lively and melodic solo that sends notes racing over the active foundation. The group overflows with commitment and dedication to this concept, taking the time to explore their own musical identities in a highly exposed manner.

Integrating Classic Jazz Compositions
Washburne integrates several classic jazz compositions into the group's repertoire, picking a diverse collection of harmonically rich pieces. Washburne establishes a slow and steady groove before the rhythm section pushes into an Afro groove on Nat Simon and Buddy Bernier's “Poinciana," making way for the trombonist to play the melody while Mathisen fills between phrases. Rivera falls into colorful fills behind Washburne, following the powerful momentum of his improvisation into a full blown cha cha cha. Walsh sends elegant melodies soaring over the rhythm section, creating a rich statement that combines boppish phrases with his solid thematic development. Washburne trades phrases with Walsh over a subdued bolero, as the two players carefully interpret the gorgeous melody to the Charles Mingus composition “Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love," occasionally overlapping to bring out the wonderful harmony. Staying close to the melody before moving into new thoughts, Washburne gently place notes over the chords, looking for just the right combination. Mathisen attacks his improvisation with a more aggressive approach, sending rapid runs flying over a return to the melody with passionate abandon. There's a gentle swing to the rhythm section's danzon behind Benny Carter and Spencer Williams' “When Lights Are Low," letting Walsh subtly tip his hat to Miles Davis with classic phrasing on the melody. Walsh tears through the changes with a no holds barred hard bop approach, while Washburne mixes gently swinging lines with hard rhythmic edges. A return to the melody twists into a minor montuno, sending the song into a furious mambo section for solos from Washburne and Walsh. The group's selection of pieces from the jazz world align directly with their concept and spark inspired improvisations from the musicians.

A Compelling Side To The Group's Artistry
Focusing upon music with a softer side may seem like an unlikely proposition for a strong Latin Jazz group, but Washburne and SYOTOS accomplish this feat with grace and style on Fields of Moons, delivering a collection of consistently intriguing music. There's a focused musicality that raises the album beyond a collection of ballads and sentimental sappiness, making it a collective exploration of the group's personality. Each player displays a wide emotional range, finding ways to integrate fiery passion, thoughtful sentimentality, and edgy attitude into slower tempos and lush textures. The album does include a significant number of boleros and down tempo tunes, but Washburne consistently keeps his creativity flowing with smart arrangements. The combination of original compositions and cleverly arranged standards keep the repertoire interesting and provide diverse contexts for improvisation. With these pieces in place, the concept comes alive through the extremely musical and alert performances from Washburne and the SYOTOS band. Washburne leads the band with a strongly identifiable voice and improvisations boosted with a fierce rhythmic momentum. Mathisen plays with a fiery intensity, cutting through each song with a modern edge, while Walsh consistently delivers top notch ideas with a hard bop soul. The rhythm section covers every base thoroughly, balancing freely interactive playing with structured clave based rhythms. Washburne and the SYOTOS Band take a risk on Fields of Moons with a complete immersion in the softer side of Latin Jazz, but their exploration reveals a compelling viewpoint on the group's artistry filled with heartfelt musical statements.

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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