New Monsters — New Monsters (Posi-Tone, 2011)
Posi-Tone is an interesting choice of label, for this album, because theirs seems to be a more retro style of jazz, recalling bachelor pads, NYC jazz clubs, and bands in suits.
Some parts of New Monsters fits that mold. “Imperfect Life” opens the album with a simple, declarative melody that reflects popular late ’50s jazz. You’ve also got a fast cover of Coltrane’s “India” leading into Eric Dolphy’s “The Red Planet.”
But there’s free jazz in the details. The title track opens with a nice piano lick and slips into a nice alto-sax solo from Steve Adams fronting the ensemble, with liquid bass and comforting chords. But a second sax solo, Dan Plonsey on tenor, comes with just drums behind it and crosses into more aggressive, free-jazz jamming.
That’s the sound of New Monsters. The group displays a love of tuneful jazz and injects it with the occasional shot of adventure from a later time, showing off influences from Ornette and beyond.
It’s apparently bassist Steve Horowitz’s band, but the compositions are by Plonsey, an East Bay stalwart whose work has touched on traditional jazz, Braxton-style “trance” pieces, and free improv. He’s also got quite a sense of humor, which is an important element in everything he writes. Two tracks on here are “Brains for Breakfast” and “Herald of Zombies,” and I’m pretty sure those aren’t standards.
Plonsey has a knack for toe-tappers with a sense of adventure. “Dragon of Roses,” for instance, is an ultra-pleasant ditty built on a relatively simple rhythms, but Plonsey’s sax solo barrels through the 4/4 time with intentional bullishness. Come to think of it, it seems Plonsey takes the more crazed solos while Adams, who normally gets all abstract with the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, seems to revel in playing it more straight.
Scott Looney on piano is a big part of the band, contributing tasteful comping that adds sneaky dissonances where he can get away with it. He also gets some chances to goof around with prepared piano, particularly on “Vision Pyramid Collapse,” where it sounds like he uses metal bowls to produce some catchy twanging to go along with the sliding swing of the theme. It’s one of my favorite moments on the album. As for other adventurous moments, the group gets more overtly “out there” on “Cylinder,” which is catchy and cartoony but is built in a twisty structure of “off” meters.
Put this group together with Bristle and the Darren Johnston band mentioned above, and you’ve probably got one heck of a great night of jazz. Should be a fun show.
Finally, and randomly, here’s a common theme tying Bristle and New Monsters: Randy McKean (Bristle) and Dan Plonsey (New Monsters) played together in the ’90s and were half of the Great Circle Saxophone Quartet, which put out an album, Child King Dictator Fool, in 1997.