By Michael J. West | Published December 2023
Upright bassist Billy Mohler drew inspiration from the Ornette Coleman Quartet in formulating Ultraviolet (his third album with his own chordless trio). But it was their commitment to spontaneity and invention that he channeled, not atonal free-jazz. If anything, Mohler and company push for as much rich, accessible melody and groove as they can find.
That’s not to say that these musicians are rigidly inside. Tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and trumpeter Shane Endsley occasionally color outside the lines as their intrigue-streaked solos on “The Wait” and “Evolution,” respectively, develop. The horns even go into cartwheeling counterpoint at the end of “Reconstruction.” But it’s a means, and a subtly applied one at that, to a resonant and sumptuous end. Dissonant passagework doesn’t subvert the beauty of Endsley’s satisfying resolution on “Ultraviolet,” nor does it dilute the effectiveness of his long-note fills behind Speed on “Reconstruction.” Add in the beguiling rhythmic head-nodders that Mohler and drummer Nate Wood (the latter with a remarkably light touch) concoct together — their bellycrawl on “Disorder II” is a hook in itself.
The album’s four full-length tunes are punctuated by five short, moody, through-composed interludes, all Mohler originals. (Perhaps “meditations” is a better word; save “Disorder II,” none generate any momentum.) Not only does each enhance the album’s overall gorgeousness, however, but their presence takes nothing away from the spontaneity Mohler was shooting for. The 64-second album opener “Matador,” while managing to be even more sorrowful than the keystone interlude “Sorrow,” nonetheless has its creative juices seeping out the edges. Without sacrificing an iota of integrity or freshness, Ultraviolet is as deliciously listenable as postmodern jazz gets.