Prolific drummer/composer Dave King is well known for his propulsive work in a number of different bands. From The Bad Plus to Happy Apple to Halloween, Alaska, each group has its own sound and approach, but all are approached in a steadfast manner. These groups are all serious units of focused players who are completely dialed in, honing a solid band sound and identity. It is King’s attraction to a strong group concept that led to his creation of his Trucking Company band and his increasing focus thereon.
On its third recording, Surrounded By The Night, the Trucking Company has solidified its identity with new material and a slightly changed lineup. The addition of the Minneapolis born, Brooklyn based bassist Chris Morrissey strengthens the Minnesota-New York connection that has been part of the identity of the ensemble, featuring the saxophone (and clarinet!) of Brooklynite Chris Speed alongside Minnesotans saxophonist Brandon Wozniak and guitarist Erik Fratzke, since its inception.
The Trucking Company was born out of the necessity to play out and out songs, music stemming from Dave and Co.’s love of jazz and the avant-garde but also rock, country and blues music. Their unique sound comes from the commingling of these influences along with the distinct instrumentation of two tenor saxes, guitar, bass and drums. All of the members have a jazz pedigree but it is their pop sensibilities that make them perfectly suited for this song-oriented ensemble.
The dual saxes allow for a singular choral sound, especially on passages where Speed, who King hears as Lester Young playing avant-garde, and Wozniak, a muscular hard bop devotee, play in unison. The effect is a widening of tone based on the microtonal differences between the two players, not dissimilar to the doubling of voice that Peter Gabriel utilizes on his records. Needless to say, Gabriel never had Fratzke, whose guitar playing can range from thoughtful strums to a powerful thrash.
The drive of the Trucking Company has renewed King’s confidence in the music. The group can handle anything that he throws at it, including his difficult charts that are memorized for performance. If it was required of the road worn legends of the past, it should be required of as seasoned musicians as are found here.
Of course, the Trucking Company lends itself to King’s favorite brands of Americana. The group’s name speaks to romantic notions of Brylcreem and the lonesome highway. The title Surrounded By The Night has a certain Bruce Springsteen je ne sais quoi. So naturally, the music, which mainly stems from King’s pen, is meant to have cinematic, Midwestern, big sky sensibilities.
The recording begins with “Delta Kreme,” a tune that blends bouncy and melancholy and takes its name from the title of a William Eggleston photo, which depicts a wholly American setting of a Cutlass fronting a Southern burger shack. The tricky “Parallel Sister Track” utilizes an ethereal melody in the horns, not to mention fantastic solos, over a seemingly disconnected rhythm section. Fratzke’s “You Should Be Watching (Art) Films” showcases the composer’s humor and guitar mastery in a bouncy jazz tune, along with outstanding performances from both Speed and Morrissey.
Harkening back to the trucking motif, “Blue Candy” is named for one of the tools big rig drivers use to stay awake on the road: speed. Evocative of a late night haul, the tune happens to be one of the earliest pieces written for the group. The rocking “Glamour Shot” takes its energy from English pop music of the 80s, conjuring The Cure and New Order, with the addition of some odd chord progressions, clarinet and a great Wozniak tenor solo.
“That Isn’t Even Worth Selling” is an older piece that appears on the first Happy Apple record and that is brought back in an unashamed, swinging Ornette Coleman vibe with a deep bass solo from Morrissey. The recording concludes righteously with “Don’t Be Suspect Of A Gift,” proving that going out with a fist pumping display of triumphant energy is always a good way to go.
The Dave King Trucking Company is now onto their third recording. Surrounded By The Night is a milestone for this ensemble that has really coalesced into a hardworking, super-solid unit that can swing, rock and otherwise.
released May 20, 2016
Erik Fratzke - electric guitar
Dave King - drums & cymbals
Chris Morrissey - acoustic bass
Chris Speed - tenor sax & clarinet
Brandon Wozniak - tenor sax