Continuum: Act One (2004)
The first thing to notice about this album, which consists of eight studio tracks recorded in Paris and one live track, is the lineup. Any recording putting together a sextet of this calibre is worth a listen and the results here certainly do not disappoint.
There is very much a feel of collaboration to the group. Bartz could be seen as the most senior band member but each of the players is given equal standing and there is no sense of a definite leader as such. Each of the six players provides a composition except Mobley, whose arrangement of Herbie Hancock's classic "I Have A Dream" opens the CD. The constant metre changes of this arrangement may at first throw listeners familiar with Hancock's original recording from The Prisoner, but the way Mobley has reduced the original nonet parts to a thoroughly convincing sextet rendition is really quite special.
Kilson constantly drives the music. His drum parts are perfectly executed, never over-complicating the rhythm and instead often simplifying it for long passages so his changes in momentum become even more pronounced. His playing across the album is in the same league as his work with Dave Holland, whether smoothly swinging as on "Firewater" (also originally from The Prisoner ), or powerfully funky as on Brown's "The Vibe At Hub's Place" or just astoundingly inventive as on Toussaint's "Heian Yondan." His own composition "Way One Street" is one of the high points of the record.
Each of the three front line players puts in some astonishing playing. Mobley has a very clear fluent style, combining eloquent runs with a thoroughly lyrical tone. The pairing of Bartz and Toussaint on saxophones provides a great deal of interest. Even on the common ground of soprano they are highly distinct from each other. Bartz puts in a superb soprano solo on "The Vibe At Hubs Place" and it is great to hear Toussaint, a player who has been shamefully under-recorded since his Jazz Messenger days, on such good form and in such quality company.
Essiet and Brown each provide solid support in the rhythm section. Essiet has a solid, full tone and even when in a conventional walking role his lines are consistently inventive. Brown is excellent both as a sensitive accompanist and engaging soloist.
Overall this has to be one of the finest hard bop recordings of recent years. The influence of classic Blue Note sextet sessions of the '60s can be felt, but this group brings the concept up to date and certainly with Kilson's propulsive drumming and the subtle funk elements within some of the compositions, the overall feel is very modern without any degree of compromise. Very highly recommended.
Track Listing: 1. I Have A Dream, 2. Way One Street, 3. The Vibe At Hub's Place, 4. Firewater, 5. Who Can I Turn To?, 6. Heian Yondan, 7. Relentless, 8. Shona, 9. I Want To Talk About You
Personnel: Gary Bartz--Alto & Soprano Saxophones; Jean Toussaint--Soprano & Tenor Saxophones; Bill Mobley--Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Donald Brown--Piano; Essiet Essiet--Double Bass; Billy Kilson--Drums; Anga Diaz--Percussion (1,3,8)
Record Label: Space Time Records