Larry Ankrum, The Dream of the Ballerina (Independent)

Larry Ankrum, The Dream of the Ballerina, album cover

It’s Larry Ankrum’s party and he’ll solo if he wants to. The Minneapolis-bred woodwinds player, who lived in New Orleans for a number of years and now resides in Los Angeles, recorded this entire CD in one day during June 2010 at Piety Street Studios. He heads an acoustic quartet with pianist Joe Ashlar and the star rhythm section of Astral Project bassist James Singleton and well-traveled drummer Kevin O’Day.

As a player Ankrum is tasteful and gentlemanly; as a composer he has a light and lyrical touch, whether he’s doing a samba, a jazz waltz or a second line groove. And if that all sounds like a nice way of saying that this CD could use a little more excitement… well, you’re right. Not that there isn’t some fine playing here, but the four members tend to keep the energy at low heat throughout. And Ankrum gives himself nearly all the solo space, a tall order on an hour-plus CD of mostly lengthy pieces. His solos breeze along nicely but seldom take any dramatic or surprising turns—and he doesn’t help matters by clustering three flute songs together at the start of the disc, then staying on sax for the duration. Pianist Ashlar also comes across as a tasteful player—with shades of Pat Metheny sidekick Lyle Mays at times—but he goes with Ankrum’s flow instead of loosening him up.

The session heats up on the last three tracks, which are fully improvised. “The Worse the Deed, the Better the Confession” opens with an aggressive Singleton-O’Day statement; Ankrum responds with his liveliest playing on the disc before O’Day breaks through for a solo. “The Silent Part of Your Soul” is attractively moody, and “Searching for What You’ve Never Lost” catches a strong groove over its 11 minutes. It makes you want to hear what might have happened if the four players had come back the next night after using this session as a warm-up.