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Find (Hopscotch)

Two years after releasing a fine debut, the jazz power trio Birth has raised the stakes with a stunning follow-up. Not only are the tunes -- by Josh Smith, Jeremy Bleich, and Joe Tomino -- more highly structured and mature, but the interplay between saxophone, bass, and drums is more tightly wound and expansive. Smith still squawks and Vocoderizes, but never gratuitously; Bleich's tone is rounder and deeper; and Tomino works his bony, funk-loving magic to innovative metric ends.

Consequently, the tunes on the band's Hopscotch Records debut bristle with changes, traversing terrain that is often exotic, Middle Eastern, and evocatively ethnic. Smith's "The Round One" is lush and shapely, with Smith and session trumpet player Cuong Vu twining sonics that are equally raucous and ravishing. Bleich's "Bismillah" starts like a test pattern, swirls into a traffic jam, and ultimately becomes an outlandish jig for extraterrestrial belly dancing. Tomino's "Untitled R_d" is all over the map: a beautiful dirge for a few bars, bracing hard rock for the next; it never settles into predictability. "Because the Sky Is Blue," Smith's long final piece, is similarly ambitious and builds to unexpected drama, suggesting these guys record music perfectly suited for theatrical, visually enticing -- yet careful -- performances.

Determinedly democratic, Find allows each player equal weight and clarity. Birth never sands down its innate talent, however, and it's to the band's credit that it drives forward as a core trio, adding others only when the tune demands. Find proves that Birth hasn't merely arrived; it's vying for Best in Class.

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