John Randall Pelosi - "Plus Ultra"
(Umbrella Recordings 1999, umbrella 023)
From Aural Innovations #19 (April 2002)
Like many of the Umbrella artists, John Randall Pelosi is a Chapel Hill, North Carolina based musician. A multi-instrumentalist whose main instrument is saxophone, Pelosi also plays guitar and cello, and has paid his dues performing on street corners around the world.
The music on Plus Ultra is an exciting and relatively accessible free-jazz style that is led by Pelosi's sax, but includes guitar, cello, bass violin, flute, vibraphone, drums, and percussion. Among the highlights is the opening track, "Li Nostro Cavallo de Battaglia". Pelosi jams away passionately on the sax while Chris Stamey (who also produced the album) and Darren Jessee provide guitar and drums support. This is beautiful free-jazz playing, but what makes it such a delight is that the musicians have found a magical blend of the accessible and the avant-garde. We hear traces of cool lounge jazz, a bit of Mingus, a dash of Coltrane, but there's also some harsher sounds that I think are produced by Pelosi's cello. In any case, this 9 minute track, the longest on the disc, stretches out and develops to produce a jazz jam that is sheer beauty.
"Solenoid" is a wild sax and guitar duel that features Pelosi jamming with himself on both instruments. "Boneyard Crow" is a free-wheeling jam with a bit of a New Orleans sound, and is much more aggressive with the addition of Jim Mathus' trombone. "Cloud 1/44" highlights horns and flute that wail and moan like Coltrane's "Om", though the result is less aggressive and more like a song. And "Bakalite" is a brief piece that gives us a look into Pelosi's more experimental world.
Plus Ultra is one of the shining lights in the small Umbrella Recordings catalog and is highly recommended to free-jazz fans. Pelosi excels at finding common ground between the more accessible end of the free-jazz scale and more adventurous music that challenges the listener to find it's many treasures.
For more information you can visit the Umbrella Recordings web site at: http://www.umbrellarecordings.com/.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz