I was listening to Paul Motian's Conception Vessel the other day, for about the 50th time, and once again was taken by Charlie Haden's bass playing. He and Dave Holland really had it going in those days, and when Daiki Yasakagawa grabbed a nice fat intro solo to The Maze here, exactly those old 70s records swam back into my ears because Yasakagawa invokes the same kind of imagery: just enough basic fingerplay, just enough abstraction, just enough hum and thump, everything meaty but with plenty of space. Then Tim Armacost jumped in on sax, Gene Jackson's drums welled up, and the bass faded back as Dave Berkman's piano took comp duties. Armacost stretched out to spin an energetic narrative, and I soon understood that, yep, the title was no BS, and this a solid component in The New Straight Ahead. Though I love tight playing in ensemble, at that moment I really needed a chops fest along with the melodics. These bad actors delivered both (and catch Jackson's drum solo at the tail end of Maze…yow!).
This configuration of musicians has played together before, three CDs worth (this being the debut Whirlwind label release), and the underlying cohesivity shows as the quartet launches into a rather radical cover of It Don't Mean a Thing, angular but groovin' as Berkman steps out for a good solid knuckle-cracker. Trust me, you've never heard the ol' standard played this way, and that's because the players are all composers and bandleaders, cats more than knowledgeable of just how far nuance can be taken…and then some. When You Wish Upon a Star commences a good deal more recognizably but with a slant, so much so that I can almost hear a swozzled Jiminy Cricket singing it while holding a lamppost with one hand, a fifth of bourbon in the other. Then the band lays into its transition zone and takes a side avenue, parsing the elements. Unfortunately, inexplicably, the cut ends all too soon, four minutes when it should've been at least seven, fading as things are getting into high gear.
Ah well, enter Autumn Leaves, and Armacost is once again at it, bubbling over with licks, sounding like a cross between Dave Liebman and Mike Brecker, Berkman just beneath him, tracing the sax's steps until his solo comes around, dancing on the keys with elements of Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, and Bob James, some early Keith Jarrett as well (more evident later in Misterioso). Nor is anyone ignored, though sax and piano enjoy the lion's share of asides and excursions, and it just might be the lesser spotlight that makes me want to hear more from Yasakagawa and Jackson 'cause Daiki paints sonic canvases when he gets the opportunity, and Gene grows big ol' muscles when cutting loose. My fave cut? Ah-leu-cha. It swings, it bops, it grows a Klee goatee, and then it collides tempo and melodic cross-currents all over the place.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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