Lucian Ban and Alex Harding: The Tuba Project (2006)
With The Tuba Project, Lucian Ban and Alex Harding have put together a raucous, bluesy, energetic, and at times ecstatic album. Drawing from deep roots in jazz and Afro-American music, these musicians play with a contagious abandon.
The CIMP recording technique, which takes great care in capturing the sound of the band live and uses no post-processing, works to great effect here. The record sounds very alive and in-the-moment, with a very palpable feeling of being there. My one quibble is that Ban's piano volume is a little low, so you might want to tweak the balance a bit to the left.
Bob Stewart's tuba is more than just a instrument to fill in the bottom end and function like a string bass. His sound is very clear and he articulates cleanly. Yes, he does play a bass line at times (even doing a "walking tuba"), but at other times he serves as an equal voice, soloing and playing contrapuntal lines under and around Harding's baritone sax and Allen's tenor sax. As such, it is easy to forget the relative rarity of recorded tuba in modern jazz (as opposed to the '20s and early '30s) and accept the sound here as perfectly natural.
Harding, an elemental force of nature on the baritone, threatens to wash away all before him when he lets loose. On the other hand, he can play with a sweetness supported by an determined insistence, as on "Spirit Take My Hand" (which also appears on The Calling). For his part, Allen never gives an inch to Harding when playing against him, and he actually surprised Ban, who had never met him before this session. The pianist, who wrote all of the tunes except Harding's "Spirit Take My Hand," assumes a supportive, not extroverted, role. He does solo, but his comping, fills and musical comments infuse the record with his presence. Drummer Derrek Phillips is a rock-solid, swinging presence who constantly pushes the proceedings forward with enormous energy.
"Cajun Stomp" starts the record off with a bang by taking a New Orleans second-line rhythm as the basis for an infectious free jam. Muhal Richard Abrams gets a dedication with "Muhal' Song," which starts off with a dissonant thematic statement that leads to Allen playing quite freely over the driving propulsion of tuba, drums and piano.
The centerpiece of the record is the sixteen-minute "Bluesness Suite," which starts with Harding and Phillips playing freely against each other, leading to a moaning theme played by the horns, which reappears a few times. Not a blues, but the very essence of the emotions that produce it, this piece is a very powerful drama.
The Tuba Project is hard to resist. This music is so alive and full of spirit that it will demand and get your willing attention as you travel emotionally with the band; the trip is well worth every minute.
Track Listing: Cajun Stomp; Hymn; Muhal' Song; Other Voices; Bluesness Suite; Spirit Take My Hand; Hieroglyphics; Mexican Hat Dance.
Personnel: Lucian Ban: piano; Alex Harding: baritone saxophone; J.D. Allen: tenor saxophone; Bob Stewart: tuba; Derrek Phillips: drums.