Similar in the Opposite Way – Jeff Albert Quartet
Sometimes an album title is just a cheap joke, a throwaway, or a misguided attempt at cultural reference humor. With the latest release from the Jeff Albert Quartet, the title is both mysterious and oddly compelling. Albert hails from New Orleans, but he has a distinct Chicago blues feel to his jazz improvisation that drifts around the similarities between the two genres, never quite lingering in either groove.
The Tale of Two Cities connection is deepened when one considers that the trombonist is also a member of the Lucky 7s, which includes a combination of musicians from Chicago and New Orleans. Similar in the Opposite Way is a deceptively downtempo album with moments of engaging jazz coupled with adventures along a rhythmic plane that sometimes appear to ebb and flow without a purpose. Alas, that would be an easy assessment, as the ten tracks—also featuring saxophonist Ray Moore, drummer Dave Cappello, and bassist Tommy Sciple—require repeat listening before one is completely enveloped within the strange duality andyes, similarities of the two forces at play hereancient blues wedded with a jazz sound both considered and original.
The title track begins the trip with self-contained and loose free-form space, as fluctuating tempo experimentations take a stand (“I Was Just Looking for My Pants”), before the improv becomes rooted within a similar series of beats (“9th Ward Trotsky”), giving way to a slow, funeral dirge tinged with the blues (“Subtle Flower”), a patient buildup to a medium-tempo sequence of energetic release (“Chalk & Chocolate”), salsa, jazz, and pop roll over, folding into a dreamy melody (“Bag Full of Poboys”), an ethereal tone poem briefly wanders into view (“(Could Have Been a) Napkin”), en route to an intoxicating riff opening up to a simple pleasurable effect (“Folk Song”) that sideswipes another funeral dirge, which, this time, meets avant-garde and Louis Armstrong along the way, with a touch of circa-1968 Mothers of Invention thrown in for good measure (“Morph My Cheese”), before, finally, a tight rhythmic gem closes the proceedings (“Rooskie Cyclist”). Unlike the album title, the song titles have no real resonance other than joke-y throwaways, but an extra 50 points to Albert for working in the words "pants," "chocolate," "Poboys," "morph," "cheese," and "Rooskie."
Albert is a sharp bandleader, and his tunes never meander. Sure, some are melody-challenged. But the trombonist appears to be attempting to find a new path that intersects two genres that don’t always quite fit so nicely together, especially if one isn’t well-versed in Chicago blues and New Orleans jazz. Fortunately, Albert’s quartet is on an album with a perceptively-named title.