Record Review: PT Gazell, “2 Days Out”
“2 Days Out” is PT Gazell’s latest jazz record, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to. The music is traditional but subversive; the dozen pieces on the CD are mostly mid-tempo jazz standards, and the treatments would be familiar to any small ensemble from the swing era, but no swing era band ever put a diatonic harmonica up front and paired it with brass. From the sound of this record somebody should have considered it before now.
Did I mention that this record is a lot of fun? It all begins with a sprightly duet between upright bass and harmonica on “There is no greater love,” which melody I have been whistling to myself ever since I heard this recording. Gazell’s playing throughout the CD’s 12 cuts is deft and confident; I used to think PT was almost too polite sometimes, but he’s plenty assertive now. (A turning point seems to have been PT’s recent duet CD with Brendan Power, whose rampant energy is sure to bring out the fire-breather in any collaborator.) The band knows their business, and the various pairings of lead instruments–harp and flugelhorn, harp and trombone–sound fresh and lively. I don’t know who’s doing PT’s arrangements on this record, but whoever it is has come up with some inspired sounds. Trombone and harp–who’d’a thunk?
The record also raises some very interesting issues where playing the diatonic harp chromatically is concerned. To be specific, Gazell’s playing here is a lot smoother in terms of pitch and timbre than most of the stuff I hear done with bending and overblowing. The reason can only be that Gazell’s preferred technique for playing chromatically, which involves the use of valves on certain reed slots in the low to mid register, is inherently more stable than bends and overblows on unvalved diatonics. It’s rare on this record that I hear an altered pitch that makes me wince. The music just flows and does what it’s supposed to do: keep your toe tapping and your face smiling. The easy confidence of the playing makes it just as easy to forget that you’re listening to a technique with some pretty profound implications for the diatonic harp. This is another one of the ways in which this record is quietly radical. Certainly no one has taken this approach farther than Gazell, and the results are very musical.
The music is above all relaxed and swinging. Much modern jazz and classical (read: “serious”) music demands complete attention on repeated listenings to get the listener to the point where it all makes sense–where the listener can relax into the music, so to speak. The style Gazell is working here is familiar enough for most listeners to decode it instantly. It’s suitable for background when you’re going about your other business, and deep enough to reward careful listening with gems of nuance, emotion, and virtuosity.
Swing isn’t a new style, and I’ve heard a lot of it. I didn’t expect a swing record to be so captivating, but I find myself playing this record frequently, and smiling every time I do. If that sounds appealing to you, get this record.
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