On their fourth release, this Boston sextet lays out a relaxing jazz set.
The band's songs, often written in challenging time signatures, betray a
variety of global influences -- particularly in the percussion, provided by Bertram Lehmann and Norm Bergeron, which draws subtly from Afro-cuban and Brazilian rhythms. This gives the music a
complex background that, if it wasn't so laid back, would be a seething, roiling mass of energy. Carl
Clements (saxophone/flute) and Eric Johnson (guitar) dominate much of the
melodic content, and as such tend to have the most significant solos.
Clements' style harkens back to early jazz by emphasizing the melodic
variation of the piece's central theme rather than using it as a starting
point to be abandoned. This results in spare yet friendly runs. Johnson
provides a pleasant contrast to Clements soothing style by offering more
adventurous solo turns. With a clean, precise sound, Johnson's fretwork is
similar to Pat Metheny's, albeit without all the toys. Like Metheny, Johnson fills
the music with reassuring, confident melodies.
The music is fleshed out by the other members of the rhythm section, Ben
Cook (piano/keyboards) and Joshua Davis (bass). Cook often hovers in the
background, using his instrument more to accentuate than to articulate.
One notable exception is a cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash's
"Guinnevere", in which Cook provides a moving duet with Clements' tenor
saxophone while the rest of the group slowly introduces the main melody of
the original. This track also gives Davis a chance to shine by highlighting his
artfully bowed bass.
The band's clean-cut style is epitomized by "Crosscurrent", which
slowly builds to a romantic climax. Combining a familiar melody
with expertly placed accents, the band works as a whole to build the
track up over its eleven minutes. This yields intriguing sub-plots and a
gratifying resolution tailor made for posh, open-air dining. At the same
time, however, "Crosscurrent" reveals the disc's biggest drawback: it is a bit too slick. The overproduced sound can push the band a bit
too close to Muzak territory. "North March" suffers from this a bit more
than the other tracks. Here, Clements' solo sounds like something from a
Kenny G record: spotless, but heartless. As a result, there are moments
when this disc makes downright embarrassing listening.
Nevertheless, the band can cut loose, and does so on "Stop & Go". Here,
Clements' saxophone is more aggressive, invoking the bluster and brilliance
of Charlie. Johnson also changes his approach, utilizing a dirtier, bluesier
style comparable to John Scofield's work. This hints at a more adventurous, less
commercial sound that I hope the band indulges on future recordings. In
any case, despite its shortcomings, Rituals displays a group
with chops and vision.