“Craig Buhler is a clarinetist and saxophonist from the Seattle, Washington area. Each song on Capistrano Sessions is an original that shows off Buhler’s ability to write in a variety of jazz styles. The leader also generously shares the melody chores with each of his band mates, and creates arrangements that allow each song to have its own stamp of individuality. area, who has assembled a strong quintet for his latest release.
“Lookear” is a boppish line, that strikes the ears like something by Horace Silver, or maybe a slower version of Jimmy Heath’s “CTA.” After a fine solo by pianist Witham, Buhler picks up his alto for his first outing on this CD. The leader employs a smoky tone, and intriguing use of rhythmic sequences, finally bring his ideas to completion. Atkinson, next on trumpet, explores the range of his horn with a finely developed, succinct solo. Finally, Hamilton and Kreibich trade fours‑each with a full sound and ear-catching phrases—the latter with particularly crisp drums.
Piano and vibes take the lead on the intro to “Capistrano,” and Buhler joins in on clarinet for the melody to this calypso tune. Buhler takes the first solo and has a beautiful tone, bringing to mind the nickname for this instrument: the “licorice stick.” Atkinson shows off his abilities on the vibes here, and it is obvious he could be equally successful on either instrument.
“Rivers” is taken at a medium slow tempo, and is more contemplative than the previous two songs. The piece has a flow similar to songs by Jarrett, Corea, or Swallow. Witham is first in the spotlight with free, lyrical phrasing. Buhler’s alto provides contrast with more bop-flavored lines. A shout chorus of sorts is included and finds the alto and trumpet in unison before a brief drum solo, a reprise of the shout chorus, tag, and fermata ending.
“October” might have also gone under the name “Somber Samba,” but that one is probably already taken. Buhler breaks out his tenor saxophone on this one, employing a lighter tone. In a colorful move, vibes take over the melody for a few measures before the tenor returns. The piano, vibes, and Buhler’s Wayne Shorter- flavored saxophone, all take brief turns at the mic, sustaining the light air of this tune.
Up next, “Paris Buffet” is a straight up swinger. Buhler and Atkinson are in unison like a modern-day Goodman and Hampton. Kreibich sticks to brushes on the head and throughout Witham’s charming piano solo.
“Himalayan” is a slow, quiet piece that finds Kreibich using mallets on his tom-toms, evoking the cloudy tops of this famous snowy mountain range. Hamilton then steps into the spotlight and is supported with lovely background harmony from trumpet and clarinet. Finally, clarinet and vibes take over with the melody as Kreibich splashes his cymbals, and this pretty piece comes to a close.
With its bouncy tempo and playful melody over shifting harmonies, “Migration” brings to mind similar efforts by Thelonious Monk. Buhler returns to the alto for this song.
“Molly Ann” is a blues with a rumba groove, that transitions to swing for the second melody, then back to rumba to set up Buhler’s slippery, gutsy alto solo. Trumpet arrives next, and not only can Atkinson get around the horn with ease, he does a great job of developing his solos. Smooth and easy transit.ions between the grooves on this song are in evidence as the piano and drums each take their turn.
“Quiet Passion” is a samba that distinguishes itself with a dreamy melody that showcases efforts from the vibes and clarinet, before leading unexpectedly to a duo section featuring the bass and piano.
After a solo piano introduction, and four-bar drum break, flugelhorn and alto share the old-timey swing melody to “Madrid Session.” Witham is by himself again on piano, before Hamilton steps forth with the rest of rhythm section in fine support. Following piano, alto and trumpet solos, the two horns feed off each other’s statements in a friendly exchange. In closing, a drum break brings us back to the melody,
“Harbor Cafe Blues” finds clarinet, trumpet and piano forming the front line for this melody. This piece is another easy-going, tribute to the swing era. In another demonstration of fine arranging, the next section trades unison lines in pairs of piano/bass and flugelhorn/clarinet, leading to Dixieland-style interplay in the frontline. The melody returns, and on the final reprise Buhler takes the line up an octave bringing the tune to a sweet finish.
This album provides a departure from barn-burning, head-cutting jazz. Here, the song is king and the succinct solos are fine explorations that keep the original lines in mind and ear.”