Album of the Day: Stephan Crump, “Rhombal”

Bassist Stephan Crump has spent much of his career pushing against the boundaries of what we expect from jazz, whether serving a long-time role as the harmonic anchor and rhythmic pivot in the influential Vijay Iyer Trio, or forging particularly tender chamber music in his elastic Rosetta Trio, which pairs his double bass with the acoustic guitar of Liberty Ellman and the electric one of Jamie Fox. Crump’s also been fond of duo projects, like his vibrant outing with saxophonist Steve Lehman and a long-running combo with guitarist Mary Halvorson called Secret Keeper. But when he composed a collection of pieces in the wake of his brother’s death from an aggressive sarcoma, he imagined a different sound, one that cleaved more closely to jazz traditions.

He assembled a strong, versatile quartet for Rhombal, enlisting the magnificent, polystylistic drummer Tyshawn Sorey—whom he’s often worked with alongside Iyer—and two horn players that he yearned to play with; the exciting young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and the veteran tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. The keyboard-free combo brings a delicious airiness to the pieces Crump wrote, all of which allow the players considerable creative latitude and aural space.

With the opening track “NoD for Nelson,” a piece that suggests a blues progression but with a sly chordal substitution, the band achieves the leader’s intended effect of saluting the great composer and arranger Oliver Nelson, with its hint of “Stolen Moments.” The group swings hard through the tricky melody of “Skippaningam,” opening up for some terrific multi-linear improvisation by the horn players, who blow terse phrases that dance around one another with preternatural intimacy. Given the loose funk groove Sorey imparts to “Esquima Dream,” it’s surprising to know that it’s the one piece here that was originally composed for Rosetta Trio, because its stabbing horn parts seem tailor-made for this combo. The two-part closer “Pulling Pillars—Outro for Patty” delivers a meditative farewell; solemn, spiritual, and, ultimately, celebratory.

—Peter Margasak

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