Portland’s Paxselin Quartet

Playing in Portland, Ore., tonight, Dec. 7, opening for Endangered Blood, at The Hop and Vine (1914 N. Killingsworth). See also Portland Eye & Ear.

Paxselin Quartet Hollow Earth (Diatic, 2007)

Hollow Earth opens with a blast of fire, a hail that lets you know the group is serious about free jazz. That same track, “The Approach,” then moves into a serious chamber-jazz mood that lingers for the next two tracks. It’s a different way to start an album, and a quick summary of this band’s talents.

It’s later on that the band gets into a looser, goofing-around kind of jazz. “Tada” is a pleasant little romp with a theme that actually reflects the title (you know — ta-da!). Then there’s “Carol Channing’s Coming to Town,” which you’d expect to put a smile on your face. It’s an upbeat little number with some nicely woven sax soloing from Mary Sue Tobin (who is also part of The Quadrophones, a “single-sex sax quartet“). And “Scherzo Schitzo,” holds up at a nice frantic pace.

The instrumentation here is sax and clarinet, bass and drums. It’s like a little slice of downtown NYC inhabiting Portland, Ore. The band puts together some good pieces here, with interesting composing and a good sense of mood for the soloing spaces. It appears to be one of those local projects whose members are dedicated to the group but can get together only occasionally; they put out one CD in 2004 and this one three years later, but nothing since. But the chemistry among the four members shows through, as the songs have a well-steeped or well-aged feel.

And I don’t just mean the fast parts, like the skronk attack on “Endless Ironic Tragedies – A Spanish-American War Re-Enactment.” The slow parts are good, too. A sparse region of “Churchland” has Chad Hensell’s clarinet alone against Bill Athens’ bass, a chipper little pause in the action. One of the early slow tracks, “Mist,” is a good eight-minute ride, using slow bowed bass to build a sense of tension and drama; the sax solo, again with just Athens’ bass accompanying, is a solitary moonlight stroll with comforting hints of blues.

This would be a fun band to see live. And hey, guess what: If you’re in or near Portland, Ore., you’ll get your chance tonight (see above)!

You can find Hollow Earth at eMusic and CD Baby.