There is something glorious about Pal o’Alto. What I can’t work out is what it is. The album possesses that rare quality of featuring five players at the top of their game. This gives the album a feeling that is seldom felt and even harder to explain. Bob Dylan used to claim that his best music has “That thin, wild mercury sound” to it. It is unquantifiable, but when you hear a particular song you know whether it’s there or not. While Pal o’Alto sounds nothing like Dylan, or his “thin, wild mercury sound”, something is exciting about these four songs.
Each track is named after the players Thomson worked with. The most satisfying tracks are the ones where the styles gel and we are given a cohesive sound. Of course, this happens in all tracks, as does the opposite, but it is during Karen Ng where everything just clicks. Opening with shrill blasts and guttural rumbles Karen Ng meanders along. It doesn’t rush to get going because it has nowhere to do. It feels like the musical version of going out for a stroll in the afternoon, with no fixed destination. Just following your feet, and the pavement, and seeing where you end up. I listened to Karen Ng while I meandered back from the shops, taking an unexpected detour via the park and some back streets. As I leisurely made my way home Ng and Thomson traded lugubrious and curving blasts. There was a part around the halfway mark when Ng delivered a deep, long bass note. Over this Thomson was playing a lyrical motif. It really struck a chord and made my walk home in the bright, and oddly warm, spring afternoon incredible pleasurable.
At its heart Pal o’Alto is a tribute to Lee Konitz, who died in 2020 during the pandemic, but at the same time, it isn’t. Throughout you can feel Konitz’ presence but the songs aren’t inspired by him. They are in fact five friends playing together out of the love of playing. The music here has no real agenda, other than it was what was played that day. And this is what you get. Four performances were captured live by friends and lovers of music. This comes across in all the tracks and makes it hard to switch off after you’ve pressed play. So why don’t you sit back and get comfortable for 45-minutes and enjoy music made for the love of playing?