Not to leave anyone out but I can’t get enough of Larry Koonse. Put him with Mike Scott and an excellent rhythm section, and David Sills has a band that lets him explore to his heart’s desire.
Of the 12 tracks on the album, seven are written or co-written by Sills with the rest coming from the pens of Larry Koonse, Mike Scott, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and others.
The album opens with Mike Scott’s Minor Monk. It’s a swinging bop piece and the guitars trade some sweet passages. Pay attention to the driving rhythm section of Blake White on bass and Tim Pleasant on drums. Sills himself lays down cool lines over everything.
Sync or Swin is a Larry Koonse piece. Sills admits that he always tries to get Koonse to contribute a tune to his albums. He calls it “a tradition.” Hearing Sync or Swim, you understand why Sils calls him “such an interesting composer.” The guitar riffs are cool and the tenor sax from Sills is worth the price of admission.
Sonny’s Side is the first Sills composition of Natural Lines. It is easy to see that this is a tribute to Sonny Rollins with some of Sonny’s signature passages and the time shifts. The guitars get some fine moments and the rhythm section of White and Pleasant keep things lively, especially in Pleasant’s fascinating solo. Any Sonny Rollins fan will dig this track as Sills nails the parts flawlessly.
Alan Broadbent’s Quiet is the Star was discovered by Sills in a hand-scribed notebook by Broadbent. Broadbent was a pianist and Sills transcribes it for alto flute. It is a gorgeous piece that is so well suited for the flute. Scott and Koonse on electric and acoustic guitars weave a beautiful tapestry behind it all. Amazing composition that sounds like it belongs in the soundtrack a 1960s movie about life in the south of France. Think Michel Legrand.
Sills said that he wanted a ballad for the album and he tapped an old favorite from his repertoire, Lover Man. The song is by Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and James Sherman. You can’t get enough of the interplay of Koonse and Scott as they set up Sills so finely. Brilliant guitar runs and duets give such good space for Sills’ tenor sax.
Foggy Daze is another smoking composition from Sills. It is actually a variation on a theme (or a contrafact) from A Foggy Day by George Gershwin. It bounces hotly with great bravado—and I mean that in a good way. The new line for the Gershwin tune was so satisfying for Sills that he was compelled to include it on the album.
Another Sills tune, and another contrafact, Mellow Stone, follows. It is a variation on Duke Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone. And just to make things really fun, Ellington’s piece is itself a variation from the 1917 standard Rose Room by Art Hickman and Harry Williams. Sills creates a languid, almost intoxicated, feel to the piece that is nothing short of deliciously decadent.
Then comes the Miles Davis monster Nardis. Sills takes it on from the alto flute and the results are everything you hoped for. White gets a cool introductory bass line before the main theme from Sills’ flute. Nardis is one of my favorite Miles pieces and the brilliant approach from the electric and acoustic guitars with the flute is excellent, even exemplary.
Jones’ Tones (David Sills) is based on a new line written for the Rodgers & Hart hit Have You Met Miss Jones? Sills tenor sax parts are brilliant and the guitars follow-up are equally rewarding. The easy swing of the rhythm section rolls the piece along so well. But the paired guitars are wonderful.
All the Little Things is a cool improv on Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are. The tenor sax and guitars just take ownership of the Kern piece and work it and rework it through their improvisations into something truly magical. Couldn’t get enough of this one.
David Sills’ Outside Corner is not based on a pitcher’s cutting the plate. It is famous among surfers referring to and exposed reef in Bali famous for consistently large waves. Sills wrote this in memory of his surfing in Bali. And it certainly carries a surfing imagery from all the artists involved. Sills evokes pictures of the board in the wave and the consistent guitars propel everything forward. A fun piece.
Sills closes out the album with Bill Evans’ Interplay. I think of Bill Evans playing with Freddie Hubbard and David Sills creates the same interplay with the alto flute and guitars. The effect of the alto flute is wonderful.
All of Natural Lines is wonderful. The idea of the double guitar quintet with the tenor sax and alto flute gives David Sills the ability to weave lush tapestries and multi-layered explorations of fascinating compositions. Natural Lines is rewarding in every way.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl