When I first saw Todd Sickafoose's Blood Orange group a couple years ago, I was puzzled about where all the sound was coming from. The five-piece outfit swaggered like a little big band, sending a scad of intersecting lines into the air to make a series of thickly braided flourishes. Evidently, that's a signature trait of Sickafoose the composer-arranger, because the medium-sized ensemble that creates the music on Tiny Resistors can claim a similar victory.
For a guy smitten with elaboration, the New York bassist builds his oft-genial, mildly exotic and somewhat dreamy tunes from simple melodies that state themselves and then multiply into little labyrinths. I occasionally hear it as a blend of the late-period Lounge Lizards and Greg Osby's Sound Theatre. John Lurie and the M-Base gang milked orchestral ideas from intricate cross-hatches, and Sickafoose does something similar. One of the marvels of this new disc is "Bye Bye Bees," a sweeping piece that starts out in one spot, but ends up in another. The conclusion has elements of its origin, but they're two discrete places--nice trick. Something similar happens on "Pianos Of The 9th Ward," a bittersweet tune that introduces itself as a brass-'n'-reeds prayer; slow, steady, morphing is a key strategy here.
Sickafoose isn't working in a swing vernacular per se. He grew up on rock, has spent lots of time onstage with Ani DiFranco, and claims Tortoise and Bill Frisell as influences. Propulsion and lilt are in full effect on these pieces, however. "Everyone is Going" manages to blend a martial undercurrent and a sweeping grace. Trumpet, Trombone, two guitars, drums and some effects from DiFranco (ukulele) and Andrew Bird (violin) make the program rich.
Rather than each piece being a showcase for specific soloist, the group is perpetually playing hot potato with shards of melody and textural colors. With this rather selfless tack, this remarkable music--especially the eratz African bounce of "Warm Stone" and the Middle Eastern blues of "Cloud of Dust"-- is bolstered by the one-for-all atmosphere. By holding hands, they've created something unique.