19 Thomas Steele 10Tet10TET
Thomas Steele 10Tet
Independent (thomassteele.bandcamp.com/album/10tet)

Thoroughly polished and staggeringly intricate, Thomas Steele’s latest release is a marvel in all its controlled fury. Unlike his last album The Bends (which featured two chordal instruments in a quintet format), Steele opts to go entirely without comping instruments here. Consequently, his horn section boasts eight parts, and the ensemble still manages to do an effective job of relaying substantial harmonic information thanks to consistently spotless arranging (particularly that of Dennis Kwok). 

Texturally speaking, the music is captivating. Through all the constantly moving structures, stabs and jabs in the arrangements, a persisting atmosphere of cathartic density is built; all while maintaining lucidity in the compositional aspects. The rhythm section of bassist Evan Gratham and drummer Jacob Slous covers a fair bit of ground between them, meshing masterfully with immaculate time feel while laying a foundation of rhythmic clarity for the rest of the group. Also indispensable is the versatile baritone saxophone/bass clarinet playing of Alex Manoukas, which adds an extra dimension of low-end and greatly adds to the overall coherence. 

Steele’s bandleading style feels equal parts selfless and distinctive. He can continually achieve a very particular sound out of such unconventional instrumentation, and yet he also gives way for the complete expression of each individual musician. Everyone is given a significant feature at some point, and three of the seven tunes are penned by contributors aside from Steele. Jacob Chung’s February Flowers is a standout.

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