Compellingly making a swinging post-bop sound is a bit of an accomplishment these days. A music that can get a bit cerebral always needs an anchor but knows when to drift. Maintaining a delicate balance requires a steady hand at the wheel; it’s fascinating hearing a quartet that has two, yet in Mandala, the new album from the group Black Diamond let by tenor saxophonists Artie Black and Hunter Diamond, this is a configuration that is certainly driving places.
The dual tenor saxophone leads makes for a more robust sound than were this to be a trio, and Artie Black and Hunter Diamond play together well, weaving about each other and building as they improvise. They make a good team, particularly with the support of bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Neil Hemphill. Ulery, as always, plays the bass with a sense of class that comes deep from the soul. Hemphill plays the drums with a sense of space, never too busy but certainly never still. Altogether, they make for a quartet that fascinatingly but at times softly, balanced, not flying off the handle but perhaps floating just above it.
There just seems to be something about these songs, with their restraint and sense of direction. They’re great songs, very much of their time and not at all rambunctious. One could almost call these songs pleasant but there’s more at play here. Opener “Jim Jam on the Veranda” swishes about. The chiller songs like “Village Within the City”, “Clay Feet”, or the sweetly beautiful closer “Little Melody” seem to simmer as much as they sooth. The weird little burners like “Rudy’s Mood” and “Jacunda” rile things up without getting in a tizzy. Altogether, it’s an album of songs that doesn’t get bent out of shape but it’s certainly a sculpture.
Mandala is one of those post-bop albums that executes everything it needs to well, not only because Black and Diamond are great composers, but also because they can lead this quartet of excellent players well. It’s an efficient album that will consistently please.
Artie Black – tenor saxophone
Hunter Diamond – tenor saxophone
Matt Ulery – bass
Neil Hemphill – drums
Mandala, the new album from the quartet Black Diamond, is out now on Shifting Paradigm Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.