Along with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs has been at the forefront of Boston’s avant-garde jazz community for the better part of two decades. Although he’s done sporadic work as an ensemble player (most notably with the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra), the bulk of his work has been documented as a composer and leader of his long-standing trio (and occasionally quartet), the Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Traditionally, three or four men does not an orchestra make, which is perhaps why Hobbs has shortened the moniker to simply the Fully Celebrated for his newest album. Either way, it’s a winning addition to the saxophonist’s discography and one that has the potential to increase his profile beyond the Boston/New York City axis.
Drunk On the Blood of the Holy Ones is the Fully Celebrated’s seventh recording overall, but its first for AUM Fidelity, which possesses a far greater reach in terms of distribution than the smaller jazz labels that have released the group’s previous recordings. The AUM Fidelity association also pays off with a stellar studio location — the album was recorded at Systems Two studio in Brooklyn, a location renowned both for its warm, organic results and its openness to working with avant-garde jazz artists. The remarkable sound engineering and no-nonsense mix heard on the album make it worth a listen for anyone interested in the sonic arts.
Hobbs is sole composer for the album’s eight pieces, but the trio is credited with arrangements throughout; for a band that’s been together for almost 20 years, one gets the feeling that a lot of what’s heard in the end results takes shape in the moment of performance. Overall, the arrangements musically capture the latent humor in Hobbs’ song titles and showcase the trio’s incredible rapport. Together, they’re able to shift on a dime from groove to freedom and back again, falling in and out of time as if affected by a constantly shifting series of magnetic fields.
“Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville” leads the album off in a slightly awkward fashion with its loping, stilted groove; something uptempo like “Reptoid Alliance” might have fared better to draw the listener in. Yet Hobbs’ elastic approach to tonality and fearless taste when it comes to employing extended techniques on the alto works to set the mood regardless of pace. As the album progresses, the sequencing appears perhaps more deliberate — there’s a predominance of midtempo pieces throughout, broken only by the disc’s sole excursion into fire music, “Conotocarius”.
Also worth mentioning are the dub-style mixing techniques used on a couple of pieces. Studio trickery is frequently a detriment to jazz recordings, but the liberal echo applied to Hobbs’ alto on the title track bounces it across the sonic spectrum while Timo Shanko’s wicked bass line conjures the ghost of King Tubby. The album’s final piece, “Dew of May”, employs a more subtle variation on this approach as Hobbs’ alto acquires some reverb and echo-enhanced sustain that perfectly fits the song’s stately vibe.
Whether experimental or unadorned, the album’s production feels like a natural extension of the trio’s talent — something that forward-thinking jazz groups have been chasing since the 1960s, yet is rarely achieved. This, together with the solid musical performances by Hobbs and his cohorts, makes Drunk On the Blood of the Holy Ones a potent concoction that will hopefully raise the “fully celebrated” of the band’s name from tongue-in-cheek irony to reality.