The new album by the Chris Welcome Quartet, Challenger (May 2017) is effortless and commands our attention all at once. I find myself drawn to jazz because of its distinct contrast; soft and forceful, silent and chaotic, empty and overflowing … it can be, and often is, a series of opposing ideas. This is apparent on Challenger. The album reminded me of why I like this style of music so much. It is easy and free, but more classic elements of “cool” jazz are still present. Each instrument has a strong individual voice, though the band is powerful when the sounds come together. I appreciated the album’s ability to be free and improvisational, without existing in complete abstraction. The band consists of Jonathan Moritz on tenor saxophone, Chris Welcome on guitar, Shayna Dulberger on bass, and Mike Pride on drums.
The first track, “Flipper”, reminded me of New York. There is a sense of sporadic movement, though each sound seems intentional and thought out. I could feel a hastening in the air, which slows at times as the tenor saxophone drags out longer, deeper notes. The sounds move between moments of higher energy and unhurried ease; like a walk with purpose turning into a saunter. “Global Warming” follows. It does not explode in immediate frenzy, but sounds like it is building to a gradual state of dissatisfaction. The track’s title reflects the frustration we hear. I thought this was most evident in the increasing pressure of the drums, until about 3:20-3:30 when the saxophone speaks out in rage. Its sound is sudden and assertive. At 6:00, we hear the force of the bass. The music seems to be having a conversation with us, urging us to hear what it is trying to say.
“Depth Perception” is intriguing in its power. The track has a fullness which comes from the strings, drums, and saxophone each engaging our senses in a different way. Listening to this, my chest moved with the pounding of drums. The guitar strings felt tangible, and I felt my mind trying to follow the sax’s path. The track melts into “Grand Inquisition”. It moves smooth and fluid, the strings gently vibrating before turning into a flit. Throughout this album, I greatly enjoyed the band’s attention to detail and time. While the music is unmistakably experimental, I think it can be appreciated by a broad audience of listeners, as more traditional influences are also present on Challenger. It is fresh and alive, but also timeless; a mark of good jazz.