ENG Notes on Jazz, Ralph A. Miriello (may.2010)

The Italian label Auand has recorded some interesting and diverse adventures in new music some of which spans the chasm of electronica, progressive rock, jam band music and jazz. I am unfamiliar with many of the musicians on this label, but on “Playing in Traffic” the electric bassist Steve Swallow, the versatile drummer Adam Nussbaum were musicians I knew and the sensitive tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor was a voice I was interested in experiencing The three musicians bring some collaborative and some individual compositions to this mixed recording.
Recorded both “live” and in the studio The album is at times playful and at times ruminative , but it lacks the continuity of a unified work. The Trio starts out with the title tune “Playing in Traffic”. Swallow’s lone walking-more like jogging-bass line is then joined by the ever so subtle brushwork of Nussbaum. Talmor’s saxophone voice enters the fray, trying to negotiate his way through the “traffic” that his rhythm section builds so effectively. At first he seems to be tentative in his approach to the on coming rush, darting close to the edges. Slowly he finds the courage to enter the stream, he becomes part of the pulse that has been building and together they increase the frenzy until they end abruptly. The result is a successful aural vignette.
The short sauntering “Three two you” is a delicate piece that has a laid back simplicity to it, with Talmor’s beautiful tone dominating. “Days of Old intro” and “Days of Old” are studies in restraint. Swallow plays a nimble introductory solo on his electric bass in the high register, evoking a guitar-like sound. Talmor’s tenor has an evocative tone that softly explores the song with a probing sensitivity. Nussbaum is a master at using a modicum of motion to its greatest effect.
My personal favorite is Talmor’s “Undress the duress” a quiet , brooding piece that features remarkably textured work by Nussbaum, with organically conceived bass lines by Swallow. The combination creates a deeply moving setting that allows Talmor the chance to speak “sotto voce” in a most expressive way.
Swallow’s “Up too late” ends the cd on a uplifting note, buoyed by Nussbaum’s raucous rolls and anchored by Swallow’s bouncing bass line. Talmor breaks out of his deep delving, letting loose and having some fun with this jaunty tune.
As a unified musical statement the album is a disappointment but it nonetheless has moments of individual brilliance. Talmor’s tone is moving, Swallow’s elastic bass breathes like an organism with a life of its own and Nussbaum’s brush work alone is worth the price of admission.