Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Luke Sellick's Alchemist on CD

Right off the bat, there are a few interesting things about Luke Sellick. First, and this is plastered all over the place, he's only 26 years old. Second, he's from Winnipeg. Third, he plays double bass and yet is the leader of this particular ensemble, which has complimentary echoes of Mingus. Fourth, he was mentored by the great Ron Carter. Finally, he's a hell of a composer. On Alchemist, from the Cellar Live label, Luke presents nine original songs that have that old soul feeling in spades, something from someone someone who's spent a lifetime perfecting a craft.

That might sound a tad effusive, but I've been listening to Alchemist casually for the last few weeks and it never occurred to me that Sellick played the bass. He's so generous with his bandmates--Jimmy Greene on tenor sax, Jordan Pettay on alto sax, Benny Benack III and Mat Jodrell on trumpet, Adam Birnbaum on piano, Kush Abadey and Jimmy MacBride on drums--that any one of them could stand up and declare "I'm in charge" and possibly no one would say a word. Well, maybe Sellick would say something.

This unity, however, comes from a group of musicians who are very familiar with each other. Sellick has played bass on Jimmy Greene's albums, so the two share a special bond on most of these songs. (Sellick has also recorded with Russell Malone, Johnny O'Neal and a few others.) His style is not flashy, and these nine tracks are not punctuated with constant double bass solos. Instead, Sellick's foundation is as smooth and as fluent as can be, a flowing river of low notes. One could argue that he's the backbone because his presence is so constant, but the real star of Alchemist is the compositions themselves. They are uniformly carefree and winsome. I hate to keep uttering this same cliche over and over, but in this instance it is unusually fitting--these sound like lost classics. So many of the contemporary jazz I've been listening to combines originals and classics in a way that suggest the building of endless bridges, but in this case we have nine strong jazz compositions that are heavy on structure and stingy with needless tangents. There's tremendous focus here.

The liner notes suggest something unusual, that most of these compositions are reflections of Sellick's Christian faith, "which was instilled in him during his Canadian upbringing." I wouldn't have guessed this in a million years, but I'm not the person to seriously think about the connection--especially when there are no vocals. But those ideas may connect to the central tones that attract Sellick, that this is content jazz, relatively free from conflict. As soulful as this album is, it is certainly not the blues. But it is a smart jazz album, and a well-recorded one, so it's well worth your time.

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