Bassist Chris Morrissey’s sophomore effort is approachably left-of-center jazz, the sort of thing you might play at a party where the guests enjoy Ornette Coleman’s Tomorrow Is the Question! as much as Fleet Foxes. The Minneapolis-to-New York transplant Morrissey enlists a crack crew, including drummer Mark Guiliana, pianist Aaron Parks and Bon Iver tenor saxophonist Michael Lewis; The Bad Plus and Happy Apple tub-thumper Dave King is producer.
North Hero begins zippily enough, “The Spirit of Chanhassen” dashing through circuitous lines like rush hour commuter trains. Guiliana creates exhilarating forward motion with full set rhythms and swashbuckling cymbal swipes while Parks drops McCoy Tyner-like comps in the background. “Midland, Texas Picnic Area” maintains the pace, its Monkish melody dotting a bouncy old-school jazz rhythm. The song’s duet section between Guiliana and Lewis is a highlight, the pair recalling Billy Higgins and Sonny Rollins. “Roman Subway” swerves mightily through a bustling Latin rhythm before “One Worn Mile” slows the pace, way down: Like a smoldering cigarette about to burn your fingers, the song hovers in mid air, working a burlesque shuffle and a twilit, toot-toot horn melody. Then the album deflates somewhat; “Hands Crystals Anderson” plods, “Lullaby For Twins” generates little momentum. Though oddly paced, North Hero is engaging, equal parts jazz adventurousness and pop assimilation.