Anyone who has caught saxophonist Mace Hibbard‘s quintet performances in the last few years has probably heard half the tunes on his sophomore CD release, “Time Gone By.” Its official release party is this weekend at Churchill Grounds. He’ll perform Friday and Saturday with pianist Louis Heriveaux, bassist Marc Miller and drummer Justin Varnes, who form the core of his band on the disc. Rounding out Hibbard’s quintet is trumpeter Melvin Jones, who released his debut album as a leader, “Pivot,” on Turnaround Records this spring.
After seeing Hibbard live a number of times and hearing a few performances via the AtlantaJazz YouTube channel, I was well acquainted with half the tunes on “Time Gone By.” I’d become such a fan, in fact, that Hibbard’s quartet performed at my wedding reception.
I don’t hide my aesthetic biases. Hibbard has grown compositionally out in the open, using the four years since his debut album, “When Last We Met,” to craft intricate, branching compositions. While not much on the new CD is groundbreaking, it’s a solid representation of Hibbard as a musician, and it’s a treat to finally be able to hear, on demand, the architecture of each tune and solos from his excellent sidemen.
“Time Gone By” opens with what seems to be an ironic track. Hibbard is a laid-back performer and an overall gracious person, so “Rude on Purpose” is a bit of a false title (if, in fact, it refers to him at all). The track is extremely forceful. It opens with a frenetic, boisterous melody that pushes against the beat, with the rhythm section holding Hibbard and Jones back from surging ahead. Hibbard’s solo is an aggressive burst of notes and pointed, prickly sequences, a stark contrast to his dulcet playing on the more downtempo pieces on the disc.
“Always on My Mind,” which he’s been performing since at least 2008, is the only cover tune on the disc, but it is representative of Hibbard’s ballad playing. He makes beautiful use of space, carefully thinking about each note, adding a wide touch of vibrato at the end of phrases. His round, open sound is sustained through even the softest passages, keeping his tone buoyant. “Always on My Mind” features Hibbard on alto — he plays both alto and tenor saxophones on the disc — and I much prefer his deeper alto tone.
He recorded “Time Gone By” during a period of intense studio activity. Before laying down tracks for his own CD, he had been in the studio as part of Jones’ debut. In the same time frame, Hibbard also went to the studio to participate in a summit of local saxophonists for Hot Shoe Records.
None of those sessions diluted his playing; it’s as fiery and inventive as it is live. Taken together with the recent activity of local artists, “Time Gone By” proves that Hibbard is one of the leaders of Atlanta’s vivacious jazz scene.