By Ed Enright | Published October 2018
For its sophomore album, this young quartet took apart a bunch of Charlie Parker melodies and reassembled the pieces into something entirely different and considerably more modern. They took “Little Willie Leaps” and recorded it backwards, note-for-note. “Moose The Mooch” deliberately was torn to bits and transformed into a pointillistic mosaic. The band derived two minimalist pieces from “Ornithology” and based others on “Segment” and “Donna Lee.”
Throughout Freebird, Parker’s signature eighth-note triplets and bold chromatic turns emerge and just as quickly disappear as the bebop icon’s canon is cleverly, and lovingly, mutated. Alto saxophonist/trumpeter Caleb Curtis, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Kenny Pexton, bassist Adam Coté and drummer/percussionist Shawn Baltazor form the core of Walking Distance. Having established a strong identity in the contemporary acoustic jazz realm with its 2015 debut, Neighborhood (Ropeadope), the group gets a boost on Freebird from guest pianist Jason Moran, who makes strong contributions to several tracks, and producer Ben Rubin, who had an equal voice as the instrumentalists in the creative process, making use of a variety of cutting-edge and time-tested studio recording techniques. (Eight microphone setups were used over the course of what Rubin describes as an epic two-day session.) The producer’s hands-on approach involved adding samples and ambient Mellotron to the mix, as well as affixing layers of presentation and storytelling seldom found on jazz albums. “Bigment,” one of the more radical and intense “derangements” on Freebird, features Jennifer Wharton on trombone and tuba amid a New Orleans funeral march that morphs into an urgent frenzy of postmodern bebop, before settling back into a traditional brass-band vibe and eventually dissolving into complete freedom.