Many musicians change their primary instrument in their teens, and the odd one (like guitarist Ralph Towner) in their 20s. But to spend 30 years as a double bassist in such stellar projects as Ten Part Invention and John Turnbull’s beat-poet show, Birth of the Cool, and then suddenly decide you’re really an alto saxophonist, borders on the bizarre. Unsurprisingly for such a musical sophisticate, Steve Arie’s debut in this new guise reveals that facility, conception and a delightfully airy sound are already in place.
He’s also found ideal ways to house it in terms of both the band, completed by Paul Cutlan’s bass clarinet, Able Cross’s bass and Nic Cicere’s drums, and the compositions (which carry vague echoes of the great Oscar Pettigrew’s work). After the teasing Blues in the Meadow these become fascinating, with the off-kilter groove of Weeds topped with the sort of moody melody and solos that imply dark rather than light. The highly distinctive Cutlan continues to cross-hatch shadows throughout an album that, like a large, rambling house, is full of intriguing spaces and curious nooks. The instruments blend beautifully, and Arie sounds like he was born to be a saxophonist.