Much as I dig freak-out, dissonant, off-the-wall musics, I have to say that recent years are turning out to be a great time for aficionados of straight-ahead jazz…of which I also am one. There's a return of olden sax days long lost in the Jazz Lite Ugh Era, singers are digging into the Great American Songbook more than ever and to better effect, and the unusual cerebrality of the 50s to 70s has been re-sparked by young firebrands and elder dinosaurs alike. Being among the latter, I lament the collapse of the mainstream music machine only because, despite its jacked-up nature from Day One, it used to feature a hell of a lot more variety and great music than it does now in its omni-corporate mode. The independent labels, though, I'm happy to say, now run all the best stuff and more of it than any time in history. Joe Sullivan's Whiskey Jack Waltz is a case in point.
He and his accompanists ain't spring chickens, y'all. They've been around long enough to acquire skills belying their greybeard appearances, and not an inch of this top-flight CD lacks for non-stop creativity. Sullivan is an extremely expressive trumpet/flugelhorn player somewhere in a tradition between Chuck Mangione and Miles Davis, with Wynton Marsalis' latter days thrown in just a bit. That's not an overstatement, nor has he lacked an iota of discretion in choosing compeers with just as lofty skills. Guitarst Lorne Lofsky is tastier than hell, hanging in the gap between Grant Green and post-Martino; pianist Andre White is as striking in comping as in solos, with lotsa Bill Evans' Romantic leanings; Alec Wilkington plays a frequently jackrabbit bass that brings Ron Carter up to his successors; and drummer Dave Laing knows his kit flawlessly, lying somewhere between Jack DeJohnette and Jon Christenson, one of those guys who almost reinvents jazz drums by sinking back into its headiest lost times.
The format is both of Mingus' day and of post-Miles fusion, the latter imbued imperishably with its straight-up jazz antecedents in a fashion not often encountered either in the 70s or now. I have a quite large collection of recordings, and gigs like this are uncommon, though, as said, the mode is on the uptick again. Regardless, it's impossible to have too much of this groove, so: the more, the better. I just got done listening to Marsalis' jaw-dropping 7-CD Village Vanguard box again, and Sullivan's gig turns out to be the perfect follow-on, not because it matches that swoony Wynton monster—Whiskey Jack Waltz is nowhere near as dense and outré, for one—but because it paces alongside, just as sophisticated in its own nature. It's the depth of thought and nuance that matter.
Sullivan's thoughtful lines and compositions sit atop everything, propelling the outfit to flawless performances; indeed, much of this marries Blue Note to ECM's early period over and over again for well over an hour. This isn't nightcub music or while-yer-doin-the-dishes entertainment, it's long-hair jazz that would be appropriate at the Hollywood Bowl and would do much to rescue the still sadly fading Playboy Jazz Fest from itself. I well remember when I and aerospace compeers would wait impatiently for summer to arrive so that the Fest could surfeit one and all with really great jazz. But now? Not so much. The franchise looked to ape Montreux in a minor way, and thus became and has stayed far more minor than intended. Had it stuck to showcasing work like Whiskey Jack trots out, well, we wouldn't now think of it as an off-Broadway cable channel variety show, would we?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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