Following the award-winning Of Battles Unknown Mysteries, bassist Chris Tarry returns with Project 33, a groove-happy album that started with a desire to record a project with percussionist Mino Cinelu, with whom Tarry has worked over the past few years, most notably on Metalwood’s The Recline. Combining the use of drum programming with largely acoustic instruments has resulted in an album that maintains both an earthy feel and live approach to group interplay while, at the same time, dabbling with an electronica flavour.
On Tarry’s last album he worked with a large cast of players to create an album that was more varied in approach; this time he has opted to work with one group of musicians for the entire project. While both albums work in their own way, Project 33 definitely has more of a group vibe that better suits its more singular direction.
While Cinelu’s influence can be heard throughout the record, this is no percussion-fest; this record is all about group interaction, and Cinelu is but one-fifth of a terrific contemporary band that also features pianist/keyboardist Chris Gestrin and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson. The fifth member of the band is Jesse Zubot, better known as one-half of the roots group Zubot & Dawson, this time eschewing all manner of acoustic instruments for a drum machine. Surprisingly, for a musician who is more associated with acoustic music, Zubot is a programmer who knows how to squeeze out remarkably non?mechanical?sounding rhythms.
Just over half of the programme is composed by Tarry and he demonstrates, both in his writing and his playing, the same rich lyrical sense and unfailing sense of groove that anchor Metalwood so well. Even on irregular-metered pieces like “In the Beginning,” his supple playing keeps the groove moving along seemingly effortlessly. On “Georgia Changes a Life” his bass states the theme alongside Jefferson’s Shorter-like soprano sax; his fretless bass is clearly rooted in Jaco Pastorius in the way that it manages to function as a rhythm section instrument while, at the same time, taking a more up-front role.
Equally revealing are the four group improvisation numbers. “Love Lost” is a gorgeous tone poem that could just as easily fit on an ECM recording; it serves as an almost palette-cleansing interlude between the more groove-inflected numbers that helps give the whole album more of an arc. Other tracks are equally hypnotic, but in different ways; “Far Away For Now” revolves around a trance-inducing repeated bass pattern and loop from Cinelu; Cinelu’s contribution to this track helps defines the ambience; sometimes pulsing, and other times breaking up the time to create a sense of tension.
What is remarkable about this recording is that this group had not played together previously. Tarry has remarked that he enjoys “putting bands together that would otherwise not get the chance to play if it weren’t for a specific project,” and with Project 33 he has put together a winner. Persistent, infectious and memorable grooves; a strong sense of melody and composition; and a remarkable telepathic sense between the players makes for an album that will, no doubt, see Chris Tarry nominated for awards again this year.