|Reunion records, now de rigueur in the rock and pop world, are rarer in the jazz realm. That fact makes Galore, the first album in a decade from the formerly defunct Human Feel, all the more important.
Human Feel was founded in Boston in 1987 by drummer Jim Black and saxophonists Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel joined in 1990 before the group headed to New York. By 1996, the band was absorbed into the Downtown scene; Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, Dave Douglas, Paul Motian, Uri Caine and John Zorn all employed members of the quartet. Human Feel released its fourth and final album, Speak To It (Songlines, 1997), before its members disbanded to pursue solo careers.
Chris Speed and Jim Black have since collaborated in Pachora and each other's groups (Yeah No and AlasNoAxis, respectively) while D'Angelo has made waves with drummer Matt Wilson as well as Tyft (with Jim Black and guitarist Hilmar Jensson). Rosenwinkel's signing with Verve in 2000 led to a fruitful career in the mainstream jazz world, including collaborations with Mark Turner and Joshua Redman.
The musical landscape has changed in the ensuing decade, but their intense communicative bond has remained. Black thrashes with the same pulverizing joy and nuanced exoticism, while Speed and D'Angelo weave jagged lines into dense sonic tapestries. Rosenwinkel's stint at Verve was tastefully restrained, but here he revisits some of the old drama, dropping crunchy power chords and overdriven, angular lines like crackling, snapped high tension lines.
Picking up where they left off, Galore builds on their legacy, while slightly updating it. “After The Fact” and “Apch Ro Ha” blend angular, metallic funk rhythms with dissonant cadenzas and intricate group interplay. “Improve” slows down the tempo, but not the volume, for some Black Sabbath-styled slow-core thrash, a sound they helped pioneer in the improvising community almost two decades ago.
“Fuck The Development Of You” is the album's lengthy centerpiece. The episodic excursion opens with ghostly pointillism that modulates into a series of riff-heavy diatribes, pulverizing grooves and caterwauling saxophones, embodying all the fervency its title suggests.
Conversely, “Cat Heaven” and the aptly titled “Serene” build on tender lyricism and a gentle atmosphere for the session's most mellifluous passages. “Cat Heaven” in particular is a marvel. Simmering with rippling energy, Speed and D'Angelo spin swirling, trilling clarinet lines into a knotty, uplifting mosaic; Black subtly accents the pulse as Rosenwinkel chimes in with shimmering bell-like tones for harmonic support. Busy but not hectic, the piece follows its own unique organic development. “Allegiance” closes the album on a bittersweet note, exploring variations on a melancholy, heart-rending melody over a lilting rock beat.
Demonstrating their knack for blending pop song tunefulness with free improvisation, the quartet's intense rapport elevates even simple themes into complex harmonies and heady rhythmic structures, making for the finest album of their career. It's good to have them back.