Jon Menges, Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4 Review


Jon Menges, Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4 Review

by Icrom Bigrad

Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4  marries the intimate dialogues of a trio with the dynamic interplay of a quartet. Steering both ensembles, Jon Menges creates a listening experience that oscillates between meticulous subtlety and compelling intensity. The trio, devoid of drums, lets the rhythmic ingenuity of Menges shine, inviting an introspective engagement with each melodic turn. Conversely, the quartet setup, lacking a chordal anchor yet enriched by a two-horn frontline, showcases a liberated harmonic exploration, with Joe Fitzgerald’s bass providing a grounded yet fluid harmonic bedrock.

Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4  showcases two distinct yet interconnected ensembles, each bringing its unique flavor to the collective sound. The trio ensemble features the adept Evan Gregor on bass, whose robust and melodically rich playing provides a solid foundation, and the versatile McCann on guitar, whose intricate solos and rhythmic support enhance the group’s dynamic range. Leading both configurations is Jon Menges, who directs the flow of music as he infuses each track with his distinctive rhythmic and melodic insights.

The quartet introduces Joe Fitzgerald on bass, who anchors the harmonic structure with his fluid lines, and Robert Weiss on drums, whose subtle yet expressive style adds depth to the ensemble’s interactions. Nathan Childers on saxophone complements Menges’ trumpet and flugelhorn, together creating a two-horn frontline that explores complex harmonic dialogues and rich textural contrasts. Together, these musicians exemplify a profound synergy, navigating through Menges’ compositions with both precision and spontaneous creativity.

The synergy within both the trio and quartet settings is palpable. In the trio, McCann’s supportive guitar playing enhances Menges’ warm-toned trumpet, while in the quartet, the tight rhythmic unit of Fitzgerald and Weiss adeptly complements the soloists. Menges’ command over the ensemble, coupled with his astute compositional skills, highlights the unique talents and styles of each musician, making for a compelling collective performance.

In “Anchor in the Path,” the album establishes a dialogue that balances rhythmic sophistication with melodic fluidity. McCann’s guitar solo weaves through the jazz tradition with a modern twist, while Gregor’s bass lays a solid foundation, providing impeccable support. Menges crafts a solo that is melodic, playing with motifs that enhance the song’s harmonic richness.

Moving to “Stairs,” the piece accelerates with an up-tempo swing that carries both Menges and McCann through a robust melodic partnership. Here, Menges’ solos comfortably nestle into the rhythmic pocket, delivering an energetic yet relaxed swing that captivates and exhilarates.

“Tree of Hope” offers a scenic shift with its folk-inspired melody and seamless transitions between different time signatures. The interplay between straight eighths and swing in the composition showcases Menges’ flugelhorn, which glides with elegance and precision. The track stands out for its clear direction and rhythmic mastery, provided by Gregor and McCann.

In “Coqui,” the swing rhythm supports a riff-based melody introduced by the ensemble’s two horns. The minor blues progression lays the groundwork for expressive solos, particularly from Childers on tenor saxophone. Menges adds texture with guide tones that enhance the accompaniment, injecting his unique personality into every note through his articulate glissandos, ensuring the piece maintains a swinging, relaxed mood throughout.

“Heartbreak” delves into deeper emotional territories with its ballad form. It features Menges’ solo trumpet, which opens with a richly textured introduction. The track is a showcase of emotional depth, where the interplay between the trumpet and saxophone explores complex counterpoints, enriching the narrative and highlighting the chordless arrangement that allows each nuance to breathe and resonate.

Finally, “Somethin'” captures the essence of jazz exploration with its lively tempo and inventive harmonic interplay. Menges excels in building his solo from simple motifs to more complex ideas, gradually increasing intensity and depth. His ability to weave these motifs into a compelling narrative speaks volumes of his mastery and the cohesive power of the ensemble.

Each track on Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4  has its own distinctive quality, which contributes to a larger musical story that Menges and his ensemble tell so adeptly. The interplay of instruments and the exploration of jazz forms create a rich, engaging listening experience that reaffirms Menges’ prowess as a musician and a storyteller. Menges’ compositions are both accessible and complex, rooted in the traditions of straight-ahead jazz yet innovative in their structural openness. This approach builds a cohesive interplay and highlights Menges’ insightful arrangement capabilities, allowing each musician to shine.

Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4  takes the listener on a voyage that explores themes of hope, introspection, and resilience. Each track contributes to a broader narrative, reflecting a spectrum of feels, instrumentation textures, and elegant solos, making the album a cohesive and enjoyable musical journey.



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