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Shot x Shot - Shot x Shot

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Artist: Shot x Shot

Album: Shot x Shot

Label: High Two

Review date: Jun. 3, 2006

The sound of a cymbal being bowed opens up “Bee Assassins,” the first track on the debut full-length by Philadelphia jazz quartet Shot x Shot, but it wasn’t instantly recognizable. Sounds more like a train slowing to a halt than anything turning up on most studio jazz recordings in the past decade or so. When it hits again, and realization of what it is takes hold, the very space that this recording occupies – created in the cavernous St. Mary’s Church, home to the city’s only sanctuary for free jazz and improv in the ’70s, the Empty Foxhole – in itself becomes a fifth member of the group, its natural reverb making everything bigger than it might normally sound, leaving tones that last just a bit longer than they might otherwise. Drums thud with a room-shaking authority; alto and tenor saxes trade off in filling the space, bass hides in the background, suggesting tones rather than enunciating them; and yet all of these sounds come from players who have the very organic, very intelligent ability to scale back when needed. It’s this breathy, spacious technique, a “human mix” of sorts, which imbues these five lengthy pieces with a life that many of their contemporaries seem to have forgotten, in place of chasing down ghosts and stuffing them into their instruments.

Not the work of mannered conservatory students, nor that of undisciplined skronksters, it’s important to note that the members of Shot x Shot are (at press time) ages 26 and under. It is remarkable to hear musicians so young playing with such expression, and above all, discipline; their music and its shifting balance draws the listener in and slowly circles around, a veritable shark tank of unfolding improvisational jazz. Each piece unfurls like tendrils of smoke, dissipating into the air, then pouring out from under a door with a hot handle. And they accomplish this dynamic – one that is at once constantly shifting, equal-handed, and filmic – to ends that few musicians their age, or even twice that, can hope to match. Check the seasick swing toward the end of “One Point Three Full Breaths,” with Matt Engle’s lopsided bass pattern eventually pulling Bryan Rogers’s tenor and Dan Scofield’s alto into its orbit, before releasing them into the stew of gentle chaos powered by Dan Capecchi’s deft, adventurous, yet mannered drumming. Observe the theme, then eventual descent into chaos of “Two Improvisations,” making superb use of the counterpoint between the tones and manners of playing of the reeds, from mise-en-scene to the ensuing strangulatory mood when the system is thrown off balance. Or the persistent, steady-handed stroll of “Chains of Agree,” ending the album on its most straightforward path, albeit one littered with percussive explosions and commendable push-pull when the carpet is frequently pulled out from under its steadiness.

Too much exposure to the same styles of improvisation led me away from a healthier appreciation of improvisational musics. That a group like Shot x Shot could bring me back into the fold speaks volumes on their songcraft, musical acumen, and innate sense of purpose and creation. This is a thunderous, thoughtful debut from a group well on its way to turning every last head that will listen.

By Doug Mosurock

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