“Seattle area multi-woodwind artist Craig Buhler is known for his work with the band Honk!, while also working with big bands, amid his purveyance of the Jazz for Youth concerts. And he’s written two music books, one of which is titled Keys to Music (54 original jazz etudes). So, with all of that under his hat, it should be quite discernible that he possesses a broad jazz vernacular. Along with his quintet, Buhler doesn’t bombard the listener with technical gymnastics. Sure, these folks can play, but it’s more about the leader’s strong compositions that are designed with finesse and memorable hooks.
Buhler and trumpeter/flugelhornist/vibist Brian Atkinson trade zesty fours amid an abundance of appealing harmonic interludes, also featuring pianist Dave Witham’s rhythmic comping and fluent solos. For example on “Capistrano,” Buhler (clarinet) and Atkinson (vibes) execute an airy and jubilant theme atop a medium-tempo Latin vamp. And in other movements, the band generates perky swing grooves, often enamored by Buhler’s vocal-like phrasings, largely engineered with lyrically-rich content. One of my favorite tracks is the work titled “Himalayan,” which oddly enough, seems to draw upon a solemn, American Civil War era type folk motif. Then again, it’s up to the listener’s imagination and of course, that’s the beauty of it all.
Buhler and Witham engage for a sweet melody during the lightly-swinging “Quiet Passion,” whereas the quintet ventures into New Orleans-based trad jazz for the finale “Harbor Café Blues.” In sum, Buhler shines first and foremost as a composer who zooms in on the notion that sustainable melodies and nicely-coordinated dynamics are sometimes more important than high-impact soloing exhibitions. To that end, good taste and clarity of execution rules the roost here. “