All the blame goes to Katrina. While holing up together due to this ill-famed hurricane, five young players (Nolan Lem on tenor sax, Rainer Davies on electric guitar, Paul Bedal on Rhodes, Joe Rehmer on double bass, and Dion Keith Kerr IV on drums) made a pact that, if they escaped the storm unscathed, they would form a band. That’s how today, nine years later, we are able to listen to “Slow Grind”, quintet El Portal’s second album after New Trophy, also on CAM JAZZ. El Portal is a neighborhood in Miami, the town in which the five guys met as undergraduates, but it also means “doorway” in Spanish. And, judging from their talent, the quintet may have found its way to the high ranks of international jazz. This record sounds amazing, thanks to its definitely original blend of different, well-matched sounds. Ten tunes, all bearing Lem’s signature, which display striking instrumental expertise combined with a refined capacity for composition, arrangement and cohesion. Great melodies unfold from multi-faceted musical plots, an underlying tension being shared by all the tunes. The opening track, “An Arm’s Length”, has an obsessive, hypnotic groove, with instruments sometimes searching for and finding one another in unisons, other times splitting along different paths. Following it is the title track, hinged on a convoluted theme of unquestionable charm. A vaguely punk attitude pops up in both “Diagonalization” and “Kernel°”, while “Terranium”, in the form of a suite, here and there hints at a Radiohead-like vibe, once again confirming the intellectual/musical openness of new-generation jazz players, who manage to embrace so many music styles in a single language. Listen to this recording again and again, in a hunt for further virtuosities, refinements and undertones.
Recorded and mixed in Rivotorto (Italy) on 29, 30 May 2013 at Umbria Music Center - Recording & mixing engineer Roberto Lioli
Liner notes by Thomas Conrad