For a decade or so, when Eric Revis was largely perceived as the bassist in Branford Marsalis’ Quartet, he was often cited for the agility he brought to the cohort’s brawny rambles. Instrumentally, Revis has long been a pivot expert – nudging the group action in a variety of directions with an unexpected harmonic gambit or a surprising tempo shift. Though he’s still part of the saxophonist’s feisty squad, for the last three years he’s earned a larger profile as a bandleader himself, and it’s been as terrific to see him clock the acclaim as it has to absorb his creative music. 2012’s Parallax connected him with the titanic presence of multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and brokered a limber spin on aggression. Last year’s City Of Asylum was a triumph of ensemble synergy that went for the soft touch and genuflected to the kind of poetic abstraction Andrew Hill was fond of. With the arrival of In Memory of Things Yet Seen, we have another Revis ensemble, wholly separate from the sound of its predecessors, and equally as impressive.
Variety defines the disc. With a two-reed front line of Darius Jones and Bill McHenry, the bassist has set up the group to freewheel through myriad territories. There’s no piano involved, so the harmonic terrain is comparatively unencumbered. Though obviously distinct, McHenry’s tenor and Jones’ alto have common ground – each loves to entwine with the other and neither is afraid of harsh declamation. With drummer Chad Taylor pushing hard at every turn, they reach such regions quickly. Sometimes that yields full-throttled blowing, the kind that drives the enticing squall of “Hits.” But clamor is only one hue here. The lithe bounce of “Something’s Cookin’” and the breezy stroll of “Hold My Snow Cone” testify to the band’s interest in graceful introspection.
Because the rhythm section is so adamant about bringing a handful of swing variants to the table, the music has plenty of liftoff. When Marsalis sits in on “Unknown” the term freebop is cast anew, with plenty of emphasis on the second syllable. The three reed players pinball off each other, effecting a balance even as the action turns frenzied. Taylor’s pummel has a deep thrust, so forward motion is always in the air. By the time they rage through Sun Ra’s “The Shadow World,” it’s all about propulsion. Featuring 13 tracks of singular pieces – tunes with quaint melodies sharing space with more blustery maneuvers – Revis makes a statement about breadth and its usefulness. Here’s a group that sounds masterful regardless of which way it pivots.