Mellifluous, articulate near to a fault, and subtle as can be, Split Decison is not what the old blues men mean when they tell you "We gonna do this one Chicago style." No, Mr. Gailloreto (reeds), Larry Kohut (bass), Laurence Hobgood (Fender Rhodes electric piano), and Eric Montzka(percussion) are the windy city's best kept secret that I know of. On occasion (say, during Gailloreto's "Cheshire Cat," during which Hobgood shifts his Fender's slick gears through Montzka's off-kilter, busy rimshots and cymbal washes) I could be convinced this CD was partially inspired by the modal-based Blue Note releases in the mid-'60s by Wayne Shorter and/ or Herbie Hancock. Here and in "Fancy That," where Hobgood sets up a woody, meditative Kohut statement with the perfect flip, a certain delicacy reigns. Poppier, hooked bits do spring up ("Other White Meat"), and "Doggin' Around" has a dancing R&B flavor, but in neither case does Montzka refer slavishly to the beat like they do on those Cool Jazz radio stations. No, you have to listen close, rendering the surprise factor high.
I really can't say enough about Montzka, who doesn't edit himself much that I can hear but I suspect that's the point. With him, more really is more; note his soliloquy beneath Hobgood's piano and Gailloreto's flutelike soprano in the recitative of "So Sari." Gailloreto's loads of fun too, possessed of a twinkling wit and a sweet mischief (his song titles evince this as well, eg. "Jump St(u)art"). His tone is rounded but deep like Rollins, and a delight. For a view of the saxophonist's gentle side, a take of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" simply floats off the player. You can still keep the windows open, though. It's given a "Sanctuary" - type reading; no, not the one on BITCHES BREW. I'm thinking of the previously unreleased Quintet take on Miles Davis' DIRECTIONS album from the late '70s. Montzka adds distant patter and drum rolls, and anyone who doesn't want to buy a Fender Rhodesafter they hear this tune probably can't play one. With great magnanimity, in fact, Kohut takes a short turn after Gailloreto's solo and structures it as if he himself were on the Rhodes. Can't figure out how he managed that. But who cares how they hide the wires. A full-bodied, slightly echoey mix, and a knockout quartet date. Modal bop in all its forms lives on.
by Kenneth Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive July 2004 Vol 14 No. 3 - Table of Contents