Jazz is what happens when outsiders take a shot. PJ Rasmussen brings not only a Blue Note quality to his forensic searches in the follow-up to his hugely popular Adventures In Flight debut, but a rock difference. The East Coast guitarist infuses the same melodic trips of a real rocker to the jazz premises, where every note makes sense — including the solos extensions.
You can hear the Eric Clapton, Joe Pass, and Stevie Ray Vaughan touches in “Ruthie,” one of the most heartfelt jazz numbers off Another Adventure. Rasmussen trips over grooves in passes with the sonic verbatim of his guitar heroes growing up, as the horn section picks up on the lightest of melodies to steal away jazz moments.
Much of the March 4, 2014, Third Freedom Music release is incredibly dense without being overly complex. A rocker could easily get the vibe, while a jazz purist will find the tones and the fixtures of structural movement impressive as hell. When mentor Andrew Light opened up jazz for the young rocker, in came the play of classical with jazz, the urgency of fusion combinations that pushed the genre ever forward.
Just listen to “Out Of Phase,” as the piano (Jim Ridl) pretzels in classical and jazz influences, with the big band horn section — twisted by avant-garde degrees, as Rasmussen’s guitar pokes and pulls his rocker inclinations like so much taffy. Only an outsider to jazz would dare pound stakes in the treads of the usual straight-ahead adventure this way.
Rasmussen’s personnel is well-equipped to handle the deviations. Veteran pianist Ridl is simply spectacular, whatever he’s asked to do, often to varying multi-genre, non-specific gradations. The horn section — including trumpeter Ben Hankle, trombonist Steve Davis, tenor saxophonist Nate Giroux, guest saxophonists (tenor/soprano) Scott Robinson and (baritone) Lauren Sevian — thrives under Rasmussen’s anything goes but the melody vibe. Giroux and Moring reprise their stellar stewardship from Rasmussen’s debut hit, the cheeky, fusion hopper, Adventures In Flight.
Case in point: “A Study In Scarlet,” which gives the horns ample opportunity to audition for more than scraps, as is the norm in jazz circles unfortunately. Even bassist Adrian Moring plays with the melody on a feast not famine, playing a buffet of riffs serving the gist of the melody.
The mix of styles runs through any gaps Rasmussen senses in the movement. He likes the classical with the jazz, as well as an underlying shape in the rock ‘n roll of his formative years. The result often explodes with something akin to controlled bedlam in a party atmosphere liable to go avant-garde at any moment. Fast and slow numbers all are given a loving, stoic stroke.
“For David” shows off Rasmussen’s softer side, a spare, deeply melodic ode of acoustic lyricism in one or two well-felt, well-thought-out moments — the complete opposite of “Full Speed Ahead,” which grabs big band soul jazz in the horn section and pure rock in Rasmussen’s guitar for what is surely a finale moment, balls to the wall. The horns take the melodic hook and just go with it, as Rasmussen practically feels the bones of the groove in his scorching run. Check out the 5:20 mark when the song goes completely left of center, as the melody is stripped back to its origins — one note, a breath, a squeal, silence even, before the whole thing starts up in full form again. That’s cool.
“Under A Wave” indicates Rasmussen’s ability to get inside the mood of a moment. In this case, what it must be like underneath the cavern of a supernaturally gorgeous but suffocating wave in the ocean. For a brief moment, to feel a mixture of terror and wonder. He captivates by capturing that feeling through the direction of pianist Ridl. Ridl becomes the wave, and you believe it’s a literal transformation by the time the song is more than halfway through. That snazzy Blue Note jazz club feel surges in the punctuating cuts of the amply experienced horn section. The song reflects Rasmussen’s innate ability with the lyrical and gritty, all to get you to feel what he’s feeling too.
Another Adventure features Rasmussen’s feel for the music in an ensemble mode. It’s not a puff piece about his guitar. It’s about the compositions he’s put together for the full effect, for every instrument involved. Without the saxophone, piano, and the bass beat, he knows he can’t have the complete song.
Nothing on this album goes straight into jazz. That’s the beauty of PJ Rasmussen. He hears a symphony of different styles in one over-arching melody. He also knows how to work the melody into his own Jazz Messengers romp.