Patrick Cress’ Telepathy

Patrick Cress’ Telepathy — Alive and Teething (Telepathic, 2009)

Telepathy is a longtime hidden gem of the local jazz scene, and it’s too bad more people haven’t checked out the way Patrick Cress and Aaron Novik bounce sax/clarinet lines off one another in this energetic quartet. I got to see them live back in June, and as I’d mentioned then, they’ve got a live album out.

Most tracks feature a hard-punching middle-tempo. Tim Bulkley’s drums lay down solid smacking beats that both horns can play off. This lays the foundation for some terrific group work.

The main theme of “The Workout” is chipper and snippy; I love the snappy attitude in the way the sax clips short the first quick note in that line. For Novik’s solo, the band seems to spread out, offering a nice wide space without necessarily slowing down much — elbow room. “Metal Telepathy” buzzes low to the ground (baritone sax plus bass clarinet?) and rocks out with some raspy soloing in front of a busy rhythm section.

So, you don’t get full-tilt Spy Vs. Spy speedballing, but you do get catchy tunes with a heavy stomp to them (sometimes in an odd time signature) followed by solos that blaze and sear, with Cress and Novik egging each other on. Or, sometimes, they’ll solo together in intertwining lines.

The composing certainly draws from players like Ornette Coleman and Tim Berne, but it’s also got Klezmer and world-music twists to it, for a vaguely Eastern European tinge sometimes.

“Powder Monkey” (track 2) features the kind of sinewy, twisting melody I’ve come to associate with these guys. (And it’s in 10/8, I think.) “Optichism” comes in with a languid snakelike pulsing, a vague touch of Asia. It’s the kind of track that’s slow in spirit but not physically slow in tempo, and the theme serves as a launching pad for what eventually becomes a lurching maelstrom.

“Teething” opens the album on the right foot: a chugging little composition that quickly hits a hiccup, a preplanned bump in the groove as it shifts from 6/8 to 4/4, if I’m counting right. That’s followed by an energetic group-soloing stretch. “Hi Hi Pizza Pie” is a seven-beat rhythm with a swingy melody, richly harmonized between the two horns.

Things close out with “Annika’s Lullabye,” a sweet little melody that leads into a free and open-ended, but still sweetly soulful, improv section. It’s like a gospel-tinged free jazz, not far removed from the free jazz of the ’60s. You can hear the crowd noise during the quieter segments here.

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