Spin Cycle were founded in 2014 by drummer Scott Neumann and saxophone player Tom Christensen. Scott Neumann began with the Woody Herman Orchestra and is now one of New York’s most in – demand drummers.
I came across him as a member of Mark Wade’s trio when I reviewed the CD ‘Moving Day’. Scott has played with Kenny Baron, Grant Tate, Madeleine Peyroux, and with his own bands Osage County and the Neu3 Trio (with Michael Blake and Mark Helias). Tom Christensen has worked with Toshiko Akiyoshi, David Liebman, Rufus Reid and many others. He has also been involved in solo projects on Naxos Records and Playscape Recordings (with Walt Weiskopf, Charles Pillow, Kermit Driscoll and Satoshi Takeishi). These two leaders collaborated with US jazz scene heavyweights Pete McCann on guitars and Phil Palombi on basses and have produced their second album as a quartet. ‘Assorted Colors’ is out on Neumann and Christensen’s label, Sound Footing Records (named I believe because the pair love walking/hiking and nature) in early April. Spin Cycle have already played across the US and at many high-profile festivals since 2014, as well as venues including Smalls, New York and released their self-titled CD in 2016.
The name of this CD was chosen because of the diversity the music offers. From the hard swing of the opener to brooding blues, quirky freer playing, mambo rhythms to ballads, there is a something for most tastes on this CD. With their vast experiences, Scott Neumann and Tom Christensen have been greatly influenced by New York’s jazz scene. In their many and varied projects, the pair have explored adventurous playing and some of this transfers, together with the stylistic playing of the other members, to produce Spin Cycle’s own distinct personality. Guitarist Pete McCann has brought out solo CDs, has his own quintet and trio and has played with many other great musicians including Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Brian Blade, Grace Kelly, Curtis Stigers, Patti Austin, the Mahavishnu Project and many more. Phil Palombi co-led Detroit Lean has played with Billy Hart, Etta James, Joe Lavano, Dave Liebman and many more. He played with the Vanguard Orchestra for many years and released Detroit Lean on Xcappa records in 2016. He wrote a book on bassist Scott LaFaro, which culminated in his experience of playing Le Faro’s original bass at the Village Vanguard.
The fact that each player has played across the spectrum of music means they bring with them many influences which add freshness to their jazz recordings.
Neumann says about their music on the CD, “One of our aims was to develop the songs not by adding sections but by building on the form itself via solos or concepts,” Christensen states, “We wrote things that got to the heart of the matter, but also were vehicles that allowed us to stretch. Spin Cycle’s decision to use a guitar rather than a piano in the band enables the creation of unusual blends of airy textures that are a trademark of the band’s tonal tapestries. Guitar chords are sparser than the piano chords; they’re more open sounding,”
The CD opens with Scott Neumann’s ‘Break Tune’. This is sax-led and very swingy, big band sounds emanating easily from the band like flowing honey. Very New York style and with a bop feel. This track is tight, gritty, and slightly loose on the lower side, a fun number; just the kind of thing you imagine settling down to listen to at the start of a promising gig. There is a touch of the Thelonius style here too, which is engaging on its own. Everyone get to solo and the band meld seamlessly through the sections. That promise is lived up to with the next number as the accelerator is pressed and the gears shift through the Christensen composition ‘Two Pan Man’ which is introduced by the sax repeating the theme(s) whilst the rest add in little counterrhythms and underpin the impressive stylised soloing from tenor sax with some devious little tinkerings and the creation of side sound-scapes. The bass and sax interaction is gorgeous and when the others join in it is with a gentleness which allows the conversation to continue unabated. The sax playing is beautiful on this track and the slightly loose-reeded tones of Tom Christensen lend themselves wonderfully to this arrangement as the notes carry with them different sounds and textures. The guitar solo here is interesting, particularly where it plays to and fro with the bass, under which the drums are doing various intriguing rhythmic changes, making one listen not enough. Then the sax returns, re-enforcing the theme and the band close as a unit. ‘Possum Dark’ has a completely different feel – definitely from the darker side, its minor key changes give it a slightly inflected feel, which suits the mood created. Right through there is a burgeoning energy which seems to well and surge with the sax lines, cleverly structured underneath with bass and drums supporting the exquisite sax tones. Even the bass solo has a not-so-subtle anger hidden within it, with some notes being plucked and slapped with force enough to give them excess vibrato. Christensen describes it as ‘a swaggering bad ass blues ‘and I think his words serve well. This is brooding, melancholic, stealthy, bluesy and so, so good. Listen for the ending – it is brilliant.
Cole Porter’s ‘ It’s Allright With Me’ is given a new twist with the band improvising and playing with the lines – at times to such an extent I am not quite sure where the original went. Christensen’s arrangement flutters around the original lines like a moth flying in and out of the fames, occasionally skimming just enough to get himself burnt but eventually he finds safety away from the heat and the original lines soar. The bass and guitar lines are fast, furious and cohesive. I am not sure what Cole Porter would have made of this but it’s all right with me.
The balladic ‘Third Floor’ is swooshy, easy and so, so gentle, with a deep, sonorous bass solo which almost, but not quite, is somnolent in its effect and the sax solo which follows soon afterwards takes you up back towards the light – both lovely and the whole song is soft, melodic and simply beautiful.
Now for ‘Etosha’ which is something different again – a funky, rolling, rhythmic-drenched number, which you might expect as it was composed by Neumann. There is a lovely section where sax soars over drums and bass providing a clever and fully functional rhythm section, from where they progress to their own brief interlude before the guitar joins, sans sax for the moment. The guitar enforces its own voice before soprano sax enters introducing another sound and feel to the number. A return to the theme and we are an ensemble to the end – wonderful track.
‘Roots’ is set into motion by the bass before sax rolls in over the top and has some wonderful jazz style references, from bop, to ensemble show case to smooth rhythms and guitar-led min-sections. There is a great use of the guitar here; filling in where perhaps you might expect to hear piano or keyboards. ‘Affirmation’ is sensual and emotive with a gentleness created belying the intricate changes going on under the ebb and flow of the solos incorporated. Everyone gets a little place in the spotlight but it is the sax which leads more often than not, the rest of the band superbly underpinning. Listen out for the drums on this track – the number of times they change rhythms is amazing.
‘To The Puente’ is a nod – and not a subtle one – to Mambo legend Tito Puente and has more than a trace of the distinctive mambo style and rhythms – good on the quartet at it shows yet another side of their diverse abilities. The middle section is a joy and again those vibration filled strings of bass player Palombi add more than a touch of a special feel to the number. Neumann composed this after visiting Cuba and studying with Cuban drummers and you can almost taste the rhythms of the island here. But they are influences and not completely dominating the number. Also here is a Neumannesque touch and a style all his own in the drum solo. The number ends with a lovely thrumming bass note. Gorgeous.
‘Mist’ is atmospheric from the start, introduced by bass and then percussion. The sax tune is esoteric, wistful and slightly eerie, tempered by the occasional militaristic marching rhythms from the drums. The guitar again fills the notes which perhaps a piano might in other 4-tets, cleverly providing the filling needed. The bass returns half way through with those bent notes under cymbals and percussive taps to recreate the atmosphere set up at the beginning. ‘Fit Bit’ is quirky, fast and fun initially, before it slows right down so allow a balladic sax solo with some pretty free playing – engaging to say the least and the quickening and slowing of the rhythms add weight and texture here. Then it sets off in fast swing with bass walking up and down underneath the rest of the band. The piece is scaffolded around the theme and layered with rhythm and changes. A brilliant finish to the CD.
This CD provides interest from start to finish and I would defy anyone not to find something to their immense liking. It is infectious, spirited music. The experience of the member’s shines and the coming together of 4 jazz heavyweights has something of a tsunami effect, yet, and this is important, there is a tinge of a sweetness and gentleness to many of the tracks which infuses the music, maybe telling the listener more about the personalities involved than the style of the music played itself. There is a huge range of references and styles infused seamlessly into the music. Whatever your reasons for engaging with this music (and there are many), this is original, and the music is spoken with many dialects, brought together to create a distinctive language all Spin Cycle’s own.
Spin Cycle Personnel – Tom Christensen—tenor and soprano saxophones. Pete McCann—electric and nylon-string guitars. Phil Palombi—acoustic and electric basses. Scott Neumann—drums.
Text: Sammy Stein