January 12, 2001
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“Knot the Thought that Counts”


    The local jazz ensemble ComplexBlue is the brainchild of percussionist and vibist Lex O’Brien, a musician who clearly loves to experiment with colors, contrasts, and contexts.
    The fine print on the band’s debut album “Knot the Thought That Counts” makes that much clear: Instrumentation that favors soprano and baritone saxes; tunes by (or associated with) Joni Mitchell, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and King Crimson; and original pieces that evoke everything from a surreal game show theme (courtesy of the album’s title cut) to a soothing respite from NASDAQ-induced woes (titled aptly enough, “dot calm”).
    All of this might come across as too eclectic by half if it weren’t for the consistently appealing and often intriguing arrangements. While the unusual pairing of Chris Bacas (on soprano and tenor saxes) and Rob Holmes (on baritone sax and bass clarinet) is responsible for the album’s fresh sounding front line, the writing for reeds is only part of the reason this music invites repeat spins. What’s going on behind the horns is often just as important, for as broad as his musical interests are, O’Brien also has a keen ear for textural nuance, as evidenced by his charming “Tall Tales of the Tufted Titmouse” and the group’s imaginative reprise of Mitchell’s “All I Want.”
    Throughout the album, in fact, O’Brien joins his bandmates, who include pianist Harry Appelman, bassist Aaron Clay, and drummer Mike Smith, in creating music full of surprises, both striking and subtle.
                                                                                                                                     — Mike Joyce