Travis Reuter Quintet (Travis Reuter, guitar; Jeremy Viner, tenor saxophone; Bobby Avey, Fender Rhodes; Chris Tordini, bass; Jason Nazary, drums)
After its commodification and some excess smooth jazz hybridization in the eighties and nineties, jazz fusion became a somewhat maligned genre. But if you’re fusing jazz signatures and rock instrumentation with the “right stuff,” its flexible profile can be a vehicle for heady music-making and imaginative improvisations. Guitarist Travis Reuter is not only a fine jazz-rock exponent and bandleader; as a composer, he references contemporary classical music, naming modernists such as Elliott Carter as well as the New Complexity composers as interests. On his debut album as leader, Rotational Templates, titles such as “Singular Arrays” and “Flux Derivatives,” as well as the intricately constructed pieces to which they are appended, demonstrate this connection.
Of course, Reuter isn’t the only musician exploring this particular amalgam. Tyshawn Sorey and Matthew Shipp have long been interested in similar integrations of avant-classical into jazz. But Reuter adds a layer of fusion to the mix, giving us an ample dose of structured yet nimble riffing, reminiscent in places of Alan Holdsworth, that suits the ornate constructions of his hybrid compositions.
His collaborators make strong contributions as well. Avey’s linear solos dovetail with Reuter’s melodies in a savory duet on “Singular Arrays.” Meanwhile, Viner and Reuter join to play a unison head on “Flux Derivatives,” but then diverge for their own solo turns. Viner’s is filled with ecstatic, free jazz inflected, angularities and the occasional stratospheric wail. He’s also exemplary on “Residency at 20 (Part 2)” adding exultant altissimo passages and post-blues flourishes to its avant jazz template. Tordini and Nazary create fulsome grooves that propel the action but are never obtrusive. Joined by Avey, they create piquant post-tonal changes and flexible phrases that undergird the soloists with fascinating harmonic contours.
All of this is accomplished without losing a sense of jazz’s swinging vitality: quite a feat for a debut!