Epic Journey, Vols. 1 and 2
Jesse Lewis, Kristjan Randalu, Adam Niewood, Matt Brewer, Rohin Khemani, Greg Ritchie & Chris Higgins
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When a group has a name like Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers, one might assume that their focus is something along the lines of outlaw country, honky tonk, or Southern rock. But there are no covers of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," or Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman" on this two-CD set. Actually, Epic Journeys, Vol. 1 & 2 isn't country at all. Niewood's group is jazz all the way — specifically, post-bop jazz with detours into the mildly avant-garde at times. Epic Journeys isn't radically avant-garde; the double-disc isn't an exercise in atonal chaos, and reedman Niewood (who wrote all of the material himself) puts a lot of thought into melody, harmony, and composition. But he also makes improvisation a high priority — mostly inside improvisation, although there is a fair amount of outside improvisation as well. And when Niewood and the Rabble Rousers do venture outside, they aren't necessarily going to go about it a particular way. Sometimes, their outside playing has the reflective, contemplative, economical approach that Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians is known for. But other times, the outside playing is denser and more intense. Niewood plays several different instruments on Epic Journeys, including tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, baritone sax, C-melody sax, clarinet and bass clarinet — and as a soloist, his obvious influences include, among others, John Coltrane, Joe Lovano, and Eric Dolphy. The material on this 2008 release isn't groundbreaking by late 2000s standards, but Niewood's playing, arranging, and composing are consistently solid. Epic Journeys is an enjoyable demonstration of the ways in which the inside and the outside can work together for the greater good in jazz; just don't expect to hear any Johnny Paycheck songs.
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