By Hrayr Attarian
Max Bessesen Trouble
Max Bessesen – Alto saxophone
Ron Miles – Cornet (1, 2, 6, 8, 10); piccolo trumpet (6, 9)
Eric Krouse – Piano (all tracks), Wurlizer (6)
Ethan Philion – Bass
Nathan Friedman – Drums
Chicago-based saxophonist Max Bessesen returns to his native Denver to produce his gripping freshman effort, Trouble. On it, he elegantly blends anguish and elation into a poignant work. His erudite expressions are tempered by captivating emotiveness as he leads his band through the nine originals and one cover that comprise this debut. The music ranges from brief, yet dense, and powerful statements to explorative contemplations—and from delightfully dissonant tunes to tender ballads.
The shorter, solo tracks serve as intros to more intricate ones. Drummer Nathan Friedman’s thunderous polyrhythms that make up “Nungam” set the mood for the Eastern sounds of the thrilling “Bakkam.” Bessesen plays the melody rich with oriental motifs with his fiery alto. Pianist Eric Krouse embellishes the theme with virtuosity and intriguing musical ideas, resulting in a beautifully textured and dynamic improvisation.
Similarly, Bessesen’s pensive “Trials” consists of agile, undulating refrains as it seamlessly merges into the melancholic title piece. Bessesen mentor and trumpeter Ron Miles’ muted phrases expand mournfully over Krouse’s somber, Western classical-inspired pianism. Friedman’s rustling brushes and bassist Ethan Philion’s graceful, resonant strings contribute to the wistful atmosphere of this heartfelt tribute to their deceased friend, guitarist Zac Nunnery.
The album opens with “Whirling,” a haunting tune with an expectant backdrop made up of sparse rhythmic flourishes. Bessesen’s wailing saxophone and Miles’ growling cornet dance around one another in intense and free-flowing lines. In contrast, the closing interpretation of the standard “Be My Love” is lyrical and romantic. It starts off with Philion’s introspective and eloquent extemporization and concludes with the quintet’s sashaying vamps and shimmering tones.
With Trouble, Bessesen demonstrates accomplished and unique compositional and performance skills. Thanks to him and his like-minded colleagues, this is a captivating recording that pushes the boundaries of mainstream jazz with balanced emotion and intelligence. It is a stimulating beginning to a career with a brilliant future.