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by Stuart Kremsky

It’s been a while since Mark McGrain and Plunge were last heard from.  Back in 1996, the group, then a quartet with different personnel, recorded a most enjoyable album for Boston’s Accurate label.  Now McGrain is back, this time in a trio configuration down in New Orleans with stalwart bassist Singleton and the extremely versatile saxophonist Green aboard for the ride.

Talking about this album is pretty simple; most of the time, this music just makes me feel good.  Between Singleton’s spunky and bouncy bass lines, McGrain’s sly improvising, and Green’s soulful testifying, there’s a lot to like, and the sonic environment (i.e. without drums and cymbals) lets everything come through with crisp clarity.  I say “most of the time” because of McGrain’s predilection for augmenting his trombone with electronic effects.  He gets a bit carried away with the possibilities on the opening “Friday Night at the Top” when what begins as an undercurrent of beeps and burbles takes over the party with a distorted doubling of the trombone solo.  The other main offender is the solo track, “One Man’s Machine,” devoted to a curious and self-indulgent display of loops, distortion, and vocalizations.  But mostly he uses all those pedals and effects as another coloration for the ‘bone, akin to a modernistic mute.

The exposed format puts a lot of pressure on Singleton, and he’s more than up to the task, relaxing into the tempos even as he drives them forward.  The way he tosses off the sometimes dense lines and his assertive style call to mind Dave Holland.  Take the three-way dance of “Life of a Cipher,” with the bassist’s nimble groove negotiating between Green’s meaty tenor and McGrain’s swaggering horn.  Singleton takes a delicious arco solo here as well, with the horns gently riffing behind him.  Singleton’s solid walking on “Orion Rising” at a very brisk pace contrasts with the slower velocity of the horn parts, giving the piece added tension and momentum.  The title track sounds like an atomized R’n’B line, slowed down, and suitable for playing late at night after everybody’s really relaxed.  Green’s big tenor sound on this one is a joy.  There’s more: the beautiful melody and heartfelt solos of “Missing Mozambique,” for instance, or the sweet dance of “The Praise Singer.”

All the tunes are by McGrain.  He favors direct Blues-informed structures that the trio fleshes out with great spirit and adventuresome performances.  Well worth checking out.



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