Dave King hitches seven new melodies to his Trucking Company, a modern jazz supergroup that likes to play it cool to a fault.
Dave King, drummer for adventurous jazz trio the Bad Plus, seems to have a surplus of ideas. He composes so much that he needs three outlets for all of the material. There's Indelicate, his solo piano album, the Dave King Trio's I've Been Ringing You, and the jazzy, folk-spun post-rock of the Dave King Trucking Company. Three albums in, this particular quintet is proving to be consistent in delivering a sturdy set of goods. Better than their follow-up, Surrounded by the Night sits squarely in the middle -- seven delightfully-written King originals that just fall short of essential.
A big reason why Surrounded by the Night doesn't ring out so confidently is because the band doesn't inject a great deal of fire into the songs. Whether it's the replacement of bassist Adam Linz for Chris Morrissey or the fact that the Trucking Company doesn't have a key-pounder like Ethan Iverson, the performance factor on Surrounded by the Night sounds like the band is going through their motions a majority of the time. Fortunately, 1) their motions carry a great deal of musical acumen and 2) King's compositions are pretty fun to hear on their own. Opener "Delta Kreme", with its circular sense of melody amidst shifts between major and minor, sounds so laid-back that it's borderline vacuous, like the band is just yawning while rolling out of bed. Guitarist Erik Fratzke sounds like he's starting to enjoy himself through discordant power chords by track two, "Parallel Sister Track". On "You Should Be Watching (Art) Films" he's happily soloing away over the steady vamp. On "Blue Candy", he sounds like he's turning a mistake into a pattern. Saxophonists Chris Speed and Brandon Wozniak don't let their proverbial hair down until the quasi-raucous album closer "Don't Be Suspect of a Gift". Fratzke joins in the fun as the King and Trucking Company drive the tune into a wall at full speed.
The two songs pointing towards the concluding track offer a nice snapshot of the Trucking Company's taste for diversity. To qualify the twee-pop of "Glamour Shot" as jazz would give some aficionados a bad case of fits. Immediately after that is "That Isn't Even Worth Selling", the most traditionally-minded jazz cut of the album. Within the eight minutes that spans these two songs, it sounds like the Dave King Trucking Company took an 80-year-leap back in time. Even more impressive is the realization that neither number feels out of place on Surrounded by the Night. Through all of Dave King's stylistic curiosities, his Trucking Company can stay the course and make it all sound pretty good. All that's missing is a little oomph.