Perhaps because he specializes in the relatively obscure sonic world of the baritone saxophone, Gabriel Sundy has often labored in the shadows of the San Diego music scene, which is a shame because the instrument is a majestic beast and Mr. Sundy is one of the best I’ve ever heard make music on it, regardless of geography or genre.
Sundy culled his Applebrown Jazz Ensemble from some of San Diego’s finest, including guitarist Nate Jarrell, tenor saxophonist Peter August, trombonist Andy Geib, bassist Harley Magsino and drummer Dave Pschaida, and the music on "The Way on Up" was years in the making and delightful on all counts. "Captain Darkness" leaps forward on an almost punk beat, powered by Pschaida’s unforgiving snare drum and Magsino’s relentless riffing, until a glorious Cape Town horn-choir ensues. Sundy takes the landscape and rips it open with a wild, squealing epiphany.
Horns punctuate sharp accents around Sundy’s dark, winding ostinato on "Monsters & Hobgoblins," which roars with stop-time bellows and intricate melodic twists opening up for the nasty distortion of Jarrell’s wicked guitar spin followed by Geib’s blustery braying 'bone solo.
There are constant melodic surprises in all of Sundy's compositions -- and if we were back in school. I would have to give him an A in creative writing. The manic surge of "The," (perhaps the ultimate minimalist title?) toggles between stuttering horns and shout-chorus opportunities for Jarrell's burning legato. Over the kaleidoscopic background, Sundy comes alive with kinetic eruptions from the Albert Ayler book of mayhem, and Geib’s boisterous output makes me wish he was more visible in the local dynamic.
On the satirically titled "You Stole My Heart and Now I Want It Back," Sundy nevertheless plays it straight, and after several moments of lush, orchestral horn musings, emerges with an absolutely gorgeous solo -- sublime and full of aching detail -- that had me moaning several times in its duration. If this piece can't make you cuddle with your significant other, you might be looking for a studio apartment soon.
"The Way On Up" succeeds where it counts most: from tight group interplay to compositional architecture to burning solos.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.