|Call me biased, but jazz has the distinction of giving us some pretty good recordings on the whole. The downside to that is an ultimate dilution of the music for public consumption. What will one more performance of “’Round Midnight” do for us? Michael Bates’ A Fine Balance flies in the face of this product dilution. This music should be filed under “And Now for Something Different...” and be proud of it. Perhaps best classified as avant-garde jazz, A Fine Balance actually defies categorization in the same way progressive art often does.
Outside Sources is steered by bassist/composer Michael Bates. He favors wide-open spaces to fill with his and his band’s joyful cacophony. His compositions nod to the classical masters, particularly Shostakovich and Prokofiev (“Prokofiev” is based on a cello sonata by the composer). The disc opens with the boisterous “On Equilibrium” and slides into the dirge-like “Entrance,” accented by Quinsin Nachoff’s reedy bass clarinet. “Charcoal” features trumpeter Kevin Turcotte sparring with the clarinet against the rhythm section. This is jazz counterpoint, something which Bach would have been content to compose or improvise.
Bates’ musical vision is one of freedom, but not at all costs. His compositions can be at once melodic and confounding. But no matter what, this is a thoroughly enjoyable recording, steeped in the the last forty years of the jazz tradition, which should occupy the CD tray for quite some time. AAJ