by Peter Herb
Tahoma Hauptman is a drummer of unusual skill and inventiveness and Math of Least Resistance is his debut release. This set of compositions reads like a great novel. It starts out with a catchy hook and then takes you on a trip full of tangents and cul de sacs and culminates with a piece that reminds you of where you just were, what you heard and that is a really cool journey. Although the instrumentation and arrangements owe much to traditional jazz, Mr. Hauptman was not trying to make a traditional jazz record. The music touches on familiar places but those places are simply starting points and not the ultimate end. Mr. Hauptman's selection of a jazz quintet format also allows the compositions to be read through a familiar sonic palette even though the content is not necessarily in an expected form. And, while each of the compositions is complete in itself, the record flows much more as a collection with each song effortlessly segueing into the next.
Mr. Hauptman grew up in Seattle, WA, and studied jazz performance at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Despite his interest in learning more about composition, the program he was in was not geared toward that and Mr. Hauptman ultimately decided he needed to move on and find another place to learn his craft. His next step was moving to Olympia, WA and hanging out and jamming with the saxophonist Bert Wilson, and learning the things that school doesn't teach. After a few years with a regular gig, playing be-bop at a Seattle hotel, Mr. Hauptman moved to New York. Once in New York, he found a gig in a more pop oriented group and later another gig in a Captain Beefheart cover band. Once these projects ran their courses, Mr. Hauptman got to work making his own record a reality.
The compositions that make up Math of Least Resistance are the result of Mr. Hauptman finding himself in a place where he could not find a musical outlet that fit well with the musical ideas he was interested in exploring. Instead of getting sidetracked and working in areas that did not compel him, he decided to write the music that expressed his ideas and then find the musicians to play it. With some guidance from the saxophonist Michael Blake on how to approach the project from an organizational standpoint, Mr. Hauptman decided on instrumentation first and then started looking for the players.
For the recording, Tahoma's assembled a formidable group of highly respected and mostly veteran musicians. Chris Dingman (vibraphone) has worked with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Terence Blanchard and Anthony Braxton. Chris Bacas (tenor and soprano saxes) is a veteran of the Glenn Miller Band, the Tommy Dorsey band, the Artie Shaw band and legendary drummer Buddy Rich. Ratzo B. Harris (bass) has worked with Joe Henderson, Mose Allison, Jim Pepper, Les Paul and Betty Carter. And to complete the band, Mr. Hauptman brought in Tina Richerson (baritone sax), a friend from his time in Seattle. Ms. Richerson is a member of the Tiptons Sax Quartet (founded by Amy Denio) who has also released a record by her eponymous trio.
The structure of the songs on Math is an evolution of Mr. Hauptman's previous attempts at combining elements of free improvisation and the melodic foundation of a traditional jazz section. In these songs, there are only minimal structural rules governing the path of the improvisational sections. So instead of having a recognizable harmonic structure, the improv sections are guided by whether it is s solo or duet performing, the presence or absence of a bass part and how long the section was to last. By structuring his compositions in this way Mr. Hauptman avoided what he saw as the constraints of traditional jazz harmony. The result is a new take on mixing compositional music with the experimental nature of free improvisation.
The opener, "Duke," is up-tempo with a bouncy and intricately syncopated head. The pairings first of saxophones and then of bass and vibraphone sets up a short but captivating solo section.
Mr. Hauptman has clearly listened carefully to many styles of music as he can shift easily from the modal jamming most closely identified with Miles or Coltrane ("Mimesis") to the mystical melodic moods of The Art Ensemble of Chicago (“In Blue”) without straining the idea of the song or the flow from track to track. There are moments where the music is inside and controlled and there are moments where the music escapes to find its own shape. But it never goes to that place where it wanders into that territory where attention is lost.
There are many reasons why this record works so well. The fact that Mr. Hauptman is experimenting with song forms and improvisational methods adds to the pull of the music and does not, as so often happens, detract from the flow. And Tahoma’s drumming is not only purposeful, it is both precise and fun. He shifts easily between odd time signatures into an easy groove and back effortlessly. And his playing is subtle in the soft passages without fading into the background and just forceful enough when required. He works his way around the kit with an informed approach that drives the music without seeming to.
The choice of instrumentation really allows each of the players to stand out because each of the instruments has its own distinct timbre. And because of this, the music never seems crowded. Mr. Dingman alternately adds an ethereal dimension through the judicious use of sustain while, at other times, his velocity adds an energy that pushes the music to, but not over, the edge. And Ms. Richerson and Mr. Bacas add tension and melodic release both by themselves and in tandem. Mr. Harris holds down the low end with authority.
MOLR is not just a collection of songs worth listening to, rather, it is a whole record worth listening to because it works both as songs and as a complete record. And like most music worth listening to, it is worth listening to multiple times.
Also see Tahoma Hauptman's website
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