On his third album from Tall Grass records, Jack Mouse presents nine songs that have been inspired by a variety of sources, from the “Andy Griffith Show,” to African American churches. Forthcoming January 2019, “Intimate Adversary” is a delight to hear. Despite Mouse’s fun with arrangements and words (he made up a word for one of the titles), the release is serious jazz, but it moves and shines with an energy that listeners expect from musicians who love their art– a description that seems an apt one for Mouse.
On “Intimate Adversary” Mouse is joined by an ensemble of talented musicians. Mouse plays drums and composes, and he is complemented by Scott Robinson on tenor saxophone, Art Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn, John McLean on guitar, and Bob Bowman on bass.
“Intimate Adversary” is different from Mouse’s previous works because it is less improvisational, less collaborative. Instead, the album allows Mouse to demonstrate his skills as a composer and as a band leader. “Intimate Adversary” is described as “a wonderful excursion into jazz expression at the crossroads of tradition, adventure, virtuosity and joyful exuberance.”
“Intimate Adversary” by Jack Mouse Group
Most musicians describe the individual songs on their albums by discussing subgenre, time signatures, and perhaps a visit to an exotic locale that inspired the songs. Mouse is more direct with his discussions of songs that constitute “Intimate Adversary.” For example, about track No. 1 on the album, “Barney’s Fife,” Mouse states, “Yep, I’m a huge Andy Griffith Show fan!” Similarly pared down is his statement about the inspiration for “Old, New & Used Testaments.” Mouse describes how the song came about using plain language: “There were two African-American churches in the town where I grew up. I used to sit outside and enjoy listening to their choir practices.”
Reading Mouse’s approach to song inspiration prepares listeners to appreciate the rather no-frills approach to jazz the drummer takes. Particularly on the second song of the suite that completes that begun by the title track. “Adamant Inversary” is simply described by Mouse as the second movement, and he acknowledges that there is no such word as “inversary” but argues that “…there ought to be.” The song’s lines and general soundscape are clear and vibrant. They are neither too “in-your-face” nor are they too reticent. The forthright approach to music-making pays off for both Mouse and for listeners.
Mouse’s discussion of “Twas Never Thus” is probably the most technical of all the ones he provides. He describes the song as “a ballad based on the harmonic changes of one of my favorite tunes, “The Thrill is Gone,” with a few strategically placed key changes.”
“Adamant Inversary” by Jack Mouse Group
The song starts out with a sort of meditative bass line. After a few measures, a blare of horns changes the dynamics. A fast, vibrant guitar showcase engages audiences until the horns take over. Consistently in the background, the drums beat a timpani that is neither too loud nor too soft. There is a sway to the song that is rather danceable and recalls Latin styles without being such. Throughout there is a feel of classic jazz.
“Twas Never Thus” by Jack Mouse Group
A slow, dirge-like feel opens the song. It is created by slow lines from the upright bass, moody notes from the trumpet, and gentle guitar and drums. The guitar showcase will remind some listeners of the steady beat of rain. The swerving notes of the saxophone showcase are a nice touch to pick up the song slightly, but the track’s beauty is never lost. Toward the end, a new soundscape picks up the song’s overall pace and feel. It is almost like pop, but with the gravitas of blues rock.
There are a number of interesting turns on this latest album. The Jack Mouse Group manages to pull from classic jazz themes and soundscapes and add their own twists and arrangements to make something unique and likely to resonate with jazz fans of all levels.