Event Horizon Jazz Quartet is a cooperative quartet of like-minded veteran musicians based in Chicago, whose self-released first CD called, coincidentally, Event Horizon, is a real treat. Working with a traditional instrumentation, the group finds a myriad of ways to keep the listener engaged, in terms of textures, grooves and sonorities across a program of eleven original compositions. It sounds great under repeated hearings and is a really fantastic debut effort for the band.
The disc opens with “Chelsea Playground”, a composition from the group's pianist, Scott Mertens. It's a perfect opener, with its lyrical, child-like 3/4 theme, beautifully rendered by saxophonist Jim Kaczmarek on soprano. What makes the track, vaguely reminiscent of Chick Corea's “Windows” and “Litha” in texture and spirit; especially appealing to me is the balance of interesting harmonic shifts with interesting and appropriate support from bassist Donn DeSanto and drummer Rick Vitek.
Next up is Kaczmarek's “Guess Not”, a medium bounce with a decidedly modern attitude, very slick and tricky as it moves between time signatures, basically 3/4 and 4/4. Influences of masters like Corea, in terms of the rubato piano intro quoting the theme in a descending chromatic whirl, and Wayne Shorter with its angular theme comes through. The track really keeps the listener guessing, settling in the bridge as a waltz, and then moving to a really swinging 4/4 piano solo, with Mertens riding high on the propulsive groove from DeSanto and Vitek.
“Escher Drive”, from Mertens, takes us somewhere else, with its lyrical melodic line over interesting textures in a Latin-funk groove. Mertens opens with a strong solo, here on electric piano, and its timbre blends very well with acoustic bass and drums. Kaczmarek, with a very impressive control over his upper register, takes his time, and his solo builds to a very satisfying conclusion, leading then to the bass solo. The tune ends strongly with some engaging Vitek commentary over a vamp.
Kaczmarek's Bill Evans-ish “Dark Waltz-When Sadness Comes” sticks to the electric piano-tenor combination. The harmonic directions are quite interesting, and the composer's playing is very lyrical. DeSanto has the first solo here, quite expressive, but also with a light bounce and perfect timing. There's good conversation within the band during the tenor solo, with nice shading and excellent use of space. In short, it's a happy and appealing group moment. Mertens solos after that, sounding very strong, and moving the music into a different place. This is one of my favorite tracks on the disc. The line invites comparison to “Alice in Wonderland” but it's definitely got its own sound and vibe.
“Black Samba”, by Mertens, is just gorgeous, starting with a beautiful relaxed samba, played alone by Vitek. The theme then unfolds in DeSanto's hand, very dark and soulful, but quickly taken up by Jim Kaczmarek's very appealing soprano. The sound of this track is lovely and very different than anything else on the side, with acoustic piano changing the overall character of the band. DeSanto solos well here, clearly articulating the harmonies over just the drums and leading to the out head, reprising the original. This is a really mature, lyrical and relaxed track.
“Event Horizon”, both the title track and the name of the band, reveals some of what could be implied by the title and it has an edge to it. It opens rubato with some interesting effects from flute, arco bass and electric piano, eventually leading to a highly chromatic, angular unison line over Vitek's insistent, Weather Report-like quarter notes. I love the way the track then suddenly breaks out of tempo into a rubato solo by Kaczmarek, one of his finest moments on the record, to my ears. An urgently repeated descending quarter note figure arises, then leads to brief solos from Mertens and later DeSanto, who drones and references a bit of the intro along with some perfectly placed harmonics. The chromatic figure returns and, after a brief fade we are back to the main theme with Vitek's pulse, and then a quick exit to the final chord.
Kaczmarek's “Great, There is No Love” is something completely different, with the composer's flute back in full voice now, but in a relatively traditional and swinging environment. The line is indeed based on “There is No Greater Love,” as becomes clear once the solos begin, but the bridge is a little harmonically denser than the original tune. Good solos by Kaczmarek and Mertens, with some nice block chord action, leads to a very effective, Brown-like solo from Donn DeSanto, and into some excellent brushwork from Rick Vitek. I like the quick ending, very surprising and leading so well to the next track.
Kaczmarek's “Evening Mist” is a lovely, minor-infused waltz, a bit more relaxed than the opener, but with the same soprano/piano combination. This tune has some very interesting and pleasing harmonic colors and motions. There's a suddenly surprising mix of feels in the piano solo, a give and take of sorts, with DeSanto briefly suggesting a metric modulation, but soon dissolving into a more textural environment.
The final pieces, unique and compelling, are all by Jim Kaczmarek. “Last Blue Jay” catches the listener off guard, but draws one in for a closer listen. A beautiful, exotic kind of texture and harmonic color is heard with a definite thought disguised melodic element. The mallets of Rick Vitek are perfectly timed and executed to create a musical scene vaguely reminiscent of Coltrane's “Naima”. The next track, “Strut”, has a Monk-like style to it, but over a half-time funk.
The closer, “We Would Love to Have You”, moves between Calypso and Songo, and reminds me most of Sonny Rollins, though the bridge goes somewhere else, in terms of the groove The juxtaposition of Calypso and Afro-Cuban is seamlessly integrated.
In sum, I highly recommend this wonderful work from Event Horizon. It's a joyous musical journey and will find its way into many playlists and rotations, without a doubt.
Event Horizon Jazz Quartet “Event Horizon”
Chelsea Playground - Mertens 6:13
Guess Not – Kaczmarek 6:54
Escher Drive – Mertens 7:25
Dark Waltz: When Sadness Comes… - Kaczmarek 6:40
Black Samba – Mertens 6:31
Event Horizon – Kaczmarek 5:39
Great, There Is No Love – Kaczmarek 6:36
Evening Mist – Kaczmarek 4:42
Last Blue Jay – Kaczmarek 8:51(for Jay Manning)
Strut – Kaczmarek 4:49
We Would Love To Have You – Kaczmarek 5:07
All Songs Arranged by Event Horizon Jazz Quartet
Jim Kaczmarek - Saxophones and Flute
Scott Mertens - Piano and Keyboard
Donn DeSanto - String Bass
Rick Vitek – Drums
Recorded and mixed by Donn De Santo at Bass Place Productions. Evergreen Park,Il.
Mastered by Steve Yates
Produced by Event Horizon Jazz Quartet
All recording and publishing rights reserved 2019
Compositions by Scott Mertens c2019 Mertato Music
Compositions by Jim Kaczmarek c 2019 Kaczophonous Music
GRB Records 001