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Randall Despommier featuring Ben Monder - A Midsummer Odyssey (Sunnyside)

18 July 2022

Having just begun his solo career with 2021’s Dio C’è, you’d think alto saxophonist Randall Despommier would showcase as much of his own music as possible. Instead, he turns his attention to the oeuvre of Swedish baritone saxist Lars Gullin, an important influence, on his second album A Midsummer Odyssey.. Enlisting master guitarist Ben Monder and ex-Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip as co-producer, the New Orleans-born/New York-based Despommier takes a trip through the catalog of the Swedish composer, whose work he encountered in Italy in 2005. Gullin drew on his native folk music the same way American jazz musicians take inspiration from the blues, so much of his music has the atmospheric feel of Scandinavian folk – check out “Silhouette” or the opening “Toka Voka Oka Boka.” Some of the tunes, however, revolve around familiar blues themes, aka “BBC Blues,” or a fresh take on songbook balladry, a la “Dyningar.” As a player used to giving solo concerts and relying on solitary orchestration, Monder provides Despommier with just the backdrops he needs, whether it’s walking basslines, melodic harmonies or just a wall of chords. The leader himself revels in the melodic possibilities Gullin’s tunes offer, which are perfect for the altoist’s creamy tone. A Midsummer Odyssey is a pleasure that sounds like it was a delight to make.