The Oddyssey Quartet
Suite for the End of the Earth / We Are All Branches of the Same Tree
It’s not at all unusual to find jazz players pushing the boundaries of their instruments and flexing their compositional muscles in places like Chicago, New York and Amsterdam. The shows may not attract huge audiences, but there are enough to support a creative music scene. It is unusual to see a boundary-pushing jazz band playing in a place like St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Oddyssey Quartet is a new group made up of veteran players who call the St. Petersburg area home. The group is anchored by guitarist Rex Shepherd and features former Albert Ayler bassist Bill Folwell, reed player David Pate (Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra, Bogus Pomp) and Jose Cochez on drums and percussion. The group hasn’t been together very long, but they have released two collections of tunes in less than six months: Suite for the End of the Earth (2018) and We Are All Branches of the Same Tree (2019).
Suite for the End of the Earth is a song cycle written by Rex Shepherd built around ideas of space travel, the apocalypse and the transcendent power of Albert Ayler. The songs have suggestive titles. “Cognitive Dissonance â€” Makers of Our Own Demise” opens the disc with alternating snarling and serene passages. “Sailing Off the Edge of a Flat Globe” is a calming, meditative piece. “Alien Planet From the Sky â€” Arriving” has dissonant tones and some really squalling passages that recall the wild energy music of Ayler’s classic work. “Albert’s Ghost â€” I’ve Been Waiting For You” closes the disc with a funky march with free jazz freak outs. The Suite has a lot of hard edges and harsh tones befitting the work’s dedication to Albert Ayler.
We Are All Branches of the Same Tree is a completely improvised set of 12 songs. In contrast to the Suite which is often anarchic, this record has a quiet, meditative, almost spiritual feel. The improvised pieces sound like conversations, often contrasting Shepherd’s spiky guitar runs with David Pate’s woody toned bass clarinet replies. Bill Folwell adds unusual textures, not only with the bass, but also with autoharp and something called an ocean harp.
Both of the Oddyssey Quarter albums are fun and challenging in different ways. These players are making this music to challenge themselves and hopefully entertain those adventurous enough to find them. I say this because I know how hard it is to find other people on the Sun Coast of Florida who appreciate challenging improvisational music. I’m glad they’re here and I’m happy I found their music.