The clarinet had long fallen from center stage before this superb jazz release. Why that might be is difficult to surmise—especially given the craze for Spyrogyra, Jay Beckenstein, and the upper register sound of the soprano, alto, and tenor saxes—yet fall by the wayside it did, and many of us have been profoundly disappointed in the dearth of licorice stick players in recent decades. Well, no longer, not with Frank Glover, who wields the instrument with consummate grace, the perfection of a first chair orchestral musician.
Because there's so little use made of the instrument, when someone comes along with stellar finesse and chops, the situation tends to arouse notice. In Glover's case, this led to a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Performance Award and a Carnegie Recital Hall gig that earned him a thunderous standing ovation. Nonetheless, all that will not convey just how talented this guy is. Cases like his are like Wynton Marsalis': throw all the awards you want at him, but, no matter how wide and deep you stack them, they still don't conveigh what a single listen will; the music far outshines the meager power of words.
First of all, the sound is unbelievably clean, Olympian even by Owl Records' already stratospheric standards. Then, Glover's choice of group members is flawless, especially in pianist Steve Allee, who possesses a touch that both bolsters and expands the instrument's straight-ahead capabilities. Bryson Kern's a smooth-flowing drummer understanding that a rhythm section can simultaneously provide the bedrock and speak distinctively while Jack Helsey's bass becomes a colorative instrument expanding the atmospherics, three-dimensionalizing Glover's playgrounds.
It's Glover, however, who centers the band and his chops are of the utmost—as said: Marsalis quality—whether caught in wild improv (One Way Ticket), twisting melodics (Politico), or mournful bittersweet reverie (The Last Blue Tang, a cut that includes the 'Jack Helsey Jazz Orchestra', which I strongly suspect is just Helsey in a very judicious use of synths, simul-synching strings atop). The cuts evidence a wide spectrum of influences, from Goodman to Blue Note, providing a timeless slice of the jazz musician's art that reaches from the 40s to this very moment. However, tucked away in all that is a highly intriguing backdrop of classical sensibilities and neoclassical inflections sparingly applied but obvious to connoisseurs. After all, when Toru Takemitsu is one of your wellsprings, you know the uses of subtlety and nuance well beyond the pale.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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