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By Michael Henningsen

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Rocky Mountain high!
!!!!= Same great taste, 1/3 less filling.
!!!= What did you expect?
!!= Might as well go for a soda.
!= Might as well kill yourself.

Tom Guralnick Trio Pitchin' (Postout)

For some, jazz begins and ends within a 15-year-long period between the late-1940s and early '60s. That period, after all, is what most history books refer to as the "cool" era. It's when big band gave way to jazz music's new reigning king, the saxophone, and a time during which giants such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan emerged on the scene, variously displaying their individual virtuosity with the instrument while simultaneously making clear the diversity and almost limitless color of its voice. But it didn't just stop there.

Eventually, as the saxophone became accepted into other genres including rock 'n' roll, its reputation began to tame somewhat. No longer was it simply the voice of jazz, it was an instrument worthy of many roles. There are those, however, whose lives are dedicated to the further pursuit and exploration of the saxophone. And Tom Guralnick is one such individual. Much more than a musician, Guralnick is a journeyman--a trailblazer who approaches the saxophone conceptually and from every imaginable angle. And that his music sometimes isn't pretty is an inherent by-product of his methods. Foremost, there is the matter of perspective from which Guralnick approaches the sax. His mindset goes beyond the traditional, delving into uncharted territry. And the sounds he is able to conjure from the instrument range from squawks and rumbles to traditional trills and flurries.

On Pitchin', Guralnick and his trio--drummer Jefferson Voorhees and trumpeter/trombonist Steve Feld--begin from a recognizable platform of saxophonic jazz and dive into realms as deep as the imagination. "Morningside Stroll," for instance, hints at Dixieland roots, yet becomes a tremendous exercise in the role of the drummer in jazz. Here, Voorhees lets loose behind the kit, playing it as if it were one of the horns that pervade the record, simultaneously performing passages with them rather than simply providing a ground to the electricity. Some of the record's longer tracks--"Something About BeeZ," the title track and "Baritaltology"--at first seem more spontaneous and improvised than they actually are. And while the structure may be relentlessly loose, it is structure nonetheless. And once again, it is Voorhees who translates for the listener. The complex compositions that comprise Pitchin' are devilishly clever and quite subliminally arranged in such a way as to inspire everything from panic to ecstasy in the listener.

As stated previously, though, Pitchin' isn't always pretty, soothing and groovy. Thank God! There are plenty of chances taken here and, whether one considers each of them a success or not, this is exactly wherein lies the point. Jazz, like the saxophone itself, is a boundless medium of expression. And the Tom Guralnick Trio have taken great pains to plan a musical vacation for your mind. All you have to do is make the flight. !!!!

Polvo Shapes (Touch 'n' Go)

Remember Chapel Hill, North Carolina? It's the place where such bands as Archers of Loaf and Polvo come from. It is also a place that's pretty much off the map as far as rock is concerned. Bummer. Chapel Hill is a place where few people go to water up anymore.

And now for something completely different, the Rodelsonix IX (as advertised in such magazines as The New Republic) drives vermin out of your home by emitting a "tremendous blast of ultrasound inaudible to you and your pets." Polvo, similarly, have made a career out of driving out your misconceptions about indie guitar rock. Shapes is simply the next, latest step. It, of course, sounds only vaguely like anything Polvo has put out previously. Instead, Ash Bowie and his cohorts (including new drummer Brian Walsby) have gone their own way again, without regard for current trends or much concern for carving a particular niche for themselves.

The aptly titled Shapes is rock chaos at its finest. With a few exceptions, they just don't make quirky, tasty guitar records like this anymore. Too bad.!!! 1/2

--Michael Henningsen

Next Week: The Blasters and The Cramps.

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