By Hrayr Attarian
Jeff Swanson Fathoms
Jeff Swanson – Guitar
Paul Bedal – Keys
Matt Ulery – Bass
Greg Artry – Drums
Greg Ward – Alto sax
Dustin Laurenzi – Tenor sax
Guitarist Jeff Swanson follows his superb 2018 debut Case-Fitter with the equally captivating Fathoms. Featuring almost all the same artists as on the first recording, the current disc also consists of similar explorations and motifs. Swanson, however, has crystalized and polished these ideas without stripping them of their spontaneity and passion.
The funky “Replicant,” for instance, brims with raw energy and swaggering, organic rhythms. The dual saxophones blow hard-edged, brassy refrains leading up to Swanson’s muscular and soulful guitar. Tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi contributes a lithe and emotive muscular extemporization.
Thematically, the former tune meshes well with such tracks as the ethereal “Fyra.” Over drummer Greg Artry’s sparse rumble, the band creates a poetic and otherworldly ambience. Overlapping keyboardist Paul Bedal’s resonant and hypnotic chords with Swanson’s own, almost mystical, lines and bassist Matt Ulery’s electric and electrifying reverberations, the quartet builds up to a tense climax that thrills and absorbs.
The intricately textured music flirts delightfully with dissonance. On the stimulating “Färvel,” the group mixes wailing saxophones, roaring drums, angular guitar, swaggering bass lines, and contemplative keyboard phrases with intensity and dynamism. The alternating individual expressions and collective performances vary from earthy to sublime with seamless elegance.
The ensemble has honed a unique, genre-bending sound that is as stimulating as the individual solos. On the rocking “Let the Children Play,” saxophonist Greg Ward’s serpentine alto over a riotous cadence leads to the country-tinged melody. Bedal and Swanson echo one another to haunting effect—hence, a piece that is multilayered and vibrant in which the boundaries between improvisation and interpretation are blurred.
With Fathoms, Swanson has cemented his place among the new generation of intrepid musicians. A few of the latter actually appear here as sidemen. As a result, this is an inventive record that avoids being abstruse—all the while remaining quite adventurous.