Rare t-bone

Michael Vlatkovich has recorded with all sort of combos and collaborators, and he has proven to have a facile ear for that fine line between improv chaos and inspired genius. It helps that he's a trombonist, which is perhaps the most versatile of jazz instruments.

Subjective Experience in a Commercial Free Zone

On this set, Vlatkovich is joined by Tom McNalley (guitar and, um, voice), Dominic Genova (electric bass) and John Hernandez (drums, etc.). This is a more modern jazz quartet than is usual for Vlatkovich, and he does make use of a few old-fashioned fusion sounds. McNalley isn't a typical guitarist, though, and so any attempt to say these pieces "sound" like anything else would be silly.

What I like about Vlatkovich in general is that he is able to bring accessible ideas into the extreme improve realm. Sometimes, these pieces can sound like "regular" jazz. That is, they are largely indistinguishable from some of the better-known, forward-thinking artists out there. But just when the groove seems settled, there's often a shift. Not a dive off a cliff, but a sense that life is not quite so ordered as it seems. Vlatkovich sets up his compositions to allow for examination and rumination, but he also keeps the trains running. And so while the journeys end as they should, the side trips can be quite the affair.

Vlatkovich has been managing this trick for years, and he seems to be a standard-bearer for those who want to keep feet in both the traditional jazz and extreme improvisational worlds. Both arenas have their charms, and both can learn quite a bit from each other. Vlatkovich seems to have cherry-picked the best from each.

As usual, each member has plenty of time to shine on this set. As I noted earlier, I am a sucker for a good trombone. While I played many other instruments, I think that the trombone may have the loveliest and most expressive sound around. It can coo or roar on command--and sound convincing either way. This is a lively, hang-out set for Vlatkovich. He and his mates aren't breaking new ground, but they've sown a fertile plot nonetheless. They've done all the work for us. All we have to do is enjoy.

Jon Worley

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