Published Feb 10, 2016Frank Zappa's wry "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny" quote aside, the jazz tradition continues to challenge and inspire new generations of musicians. Canada's alto saxophonist/composer Allison Au is a compelling case in point.
Unquestionably, her instrumental technique is strong and her writing skills considerable. Her quartet's cohesion on demanding arrangements are a testament to the dedication she inspires. Au's melodic fluidity on opener "Tides" finds warm support from Todd Pentney's dark-toned electric piano and Favio Ragnelli's loose-limbed snare shots and crisp ride cymbal. The saxophonist's confidence as both composer and leader is evidenced throughout the album, as when the disc's first solo is ceded to a sideman. Au goes with her ear, not her ego, as her playing dances around a repetitive rhythm section pattern that goes on just a bit.
The gorgeous original "Bolero" features an evocative, slow unison melody of alto and wordless vocal by Felicity Williams — another bold choice. The track's only solo is by bassist Jon Maharaj, and it's an excellent one, too.
The variety of styles and emotions of Au's compositions gives the album a living, breathing quality. While the band can lock into solid grooves on "Aureole" and "Through Light," they create ambience and moody spaces on "Deluge" and "You Ordinary Stranger." Forest Grove is engaging, carefully crafted jazz. (Independent)