When I used to think about jazz flute, I would picture a hairy-chested Herbie Mann posing Playgirl-style on the cover of his 1971 album Push Push. Well, thank goodness for flutist Patricia Julien. Her new disc, Glee, has finally vanquished the image from my mind.
Julien, who teaches in the University of Vermont's music program, is a gifted composer and soulful performer. Her eloquent phrasing is intricate and inviting, and her arrangements are captivating.
The disc also features outstanding contributions from Julien's guitarist husband Alec, bassist Jeremy Harlos and drummer Ari Hoenig. The band tackles eight post-bop numbers with class and verve.
The album kicks off with the Harlos-penned "Mei Ling." A bass figure, guitar harmonics and subtle tom-toms achieve a quasi-mystical mood. Fractured guitar chords generate tension in the tune's mid-section, which Julien resolves in a flurry of passionate flute lines. The following track, "To Meg" swaps experimentation for more traditional swing. Again, Julien's quicksilver melodies are inspired.
"Without" is a wonderful jazz ballad that might as well already be a standard. Composed by the flutist, the song swings between downcast introspection and romantic mania. Alec Julien contributes to the song's mercurial feel with a web of discordant licks.
The album's title track puts more emphasis on motion. The song's rhythmic shifts and European vibe reminded me of a compact car weaving its way through rainy Parisian streets. "X-Walk" features a few passages that border on '70s art rock. Once again, the guitarist steals the show with moody chord clusters and frenetic, single-string runs.
Julien's flute takes center stage on "Make Me," a feisty number that bounces around like an errant ping-pong ball. Harlos delivers a fine bass solo, while Hoenig maintains an airy pulse. Album closer "Snafu" takes a basic blues phrase and cleverly subverts it. Following a series of tasty bits from her band, Julien closes shop in a whirlwind of articulate tones.
The best part about Glee is its utter lack of pretension. Each player on the disc has intimidating talent, yet the music remains cordial and appealing. It's great to hear original jazz with such a convivial spirit. I'm looking forward to hearing another set from this combo.