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Published: 2005/09/08
by Randy Ray

The Random Puller – Clay Ross


The first thing that came to mind is the generosity. You put the quartet together, self-title the band and release it under your own web site and one expects musical dominance from the main attraction: Clay Ross. No, Ross isn’t that common. Common — a funny word, especially when it’s applied to jazz. The genre has become so well documented in music magazines, literary journals, novels, films and city lifestyles that it’s hard not to pick up a modern jazz album without heaving a sigh of exasperation: “Can you offer a new tune?”

The Random Puller drifts through nine cuts of modern jazz with an expert quartet that is decidedly not focused upon its leader’s musicianship. Ross is also a guitarist in the amazing percussion universe that is known as Cyro Baptista’s Beat the Dragon. Initially, Kebbi Williams’s melodic tenor sax sharpens the group’s sound but, soon, bassist Brian Mullholland and drummer Stockton Helbing seem to be writing their own music within the context of any given song. Alas, Ross allows the other three members to setup conflicting and wedded tempos while he plays tasteful licks on guitar. Like most jazz, the songs center upon mood development rather than verse-verse-chorus-solo-verse-verse-chorus-solo-verse-solo-le grande finale.

Instead, the audio hypnotism rotates between mood setup-verse-melodic chorus-solo-solo-mood consolidation and mood development-solo-solo-chorus-mood rupture-euphoric band solo and, just plain great hook-everyone solo-great hook coda. The title track, as outlined in Ross’s brief but comprehensive liner notes, is a reference to an experience in a European hostel: “she informed everyone in a pronounced British accent that she was absolutely not a “random puller.” This sly, subtle wit colors his guitar style: playful and humorous but deeply complex. Emotionally, the disc develops slowly while building intricate sound films: B&W film noir, wanderlust travelogue, frathouse comedy and twisted Russian science fiction film.

“Midway Road” offers one of several unique experiences. Ross spent many a teenaged-day roaming the long, country roads of South Carolina and developed this mind film into a six-minute metropolitan soundtrack with open tonal extravagance. “Blue Clay” is a classic jazz blues tone poem that arcs skywards before returning to a pleasantly benign melancholic foundation. Another goosebump number is the closer, “The Circle Song,” a tune that escorts those that admire the eternal search for mystique: musicians locked into a simple yet strange trance vibration without burying the major triad verse. I’d love to hear an entire work based upon unrelated major triads and this little gem is quite the starting point. Reminded me of a lost wonder found late at night while sifting though outtakes from Phish’s The Siket Disc. How does a group of musicians start off with ancient jazz, drift into more modern tones, float into a jam space, slip the gear down into blues, jump up into euphoric pop and land in the backyard of some timeless and Phish-y Radiohead groove? Check out The Random Puller and find a clue into another definition of jazz longevity and the flirtatious bond with eccentric space explorations.

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