Friday, July 8, 2011

In Your Face, Ears and Mind + One that Nearly Got By

 This is the 3rd CD as a leader for composer-pianist John Escreet, his 2nd for David Binney's Mythology label and his 1st to fully embrace technology. "The Age We Live In" features Binney on fast and furious alto saxophone and electronics, the highly explosive guitar work of Wayne Krantz and the muscular "in-your-face" drumming of Marcus Gilmore. The new recording is, melodically and harmonically, similar to Escreet's previous Mythology CD, "Don't Fight The Inevitable", but is louder, funkier and has frequent touches of fusion. Escreet's synth work on the title track may remind listeners of Joe Zawinul.  For the most part, the songs are shorter than the ones on the earlier release while the trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire has been replaced by the fiery and marvelously "bent" guitar work of Krantz.  Bassist Tim Lefebvre only appears on 2 of the 12 tracks so Gilmore is the "rhythm section" and "bottom" of this music - he is more than up to the task.  He owns the short but blazing "Kickback" and his thunderous solo on "Stand Clear" rattles the speakers.  Gilmore, certainly lights a fire under Binney on several tracks who plays with absolute abandon, with long flurries of notes scampering from his saxophone. He creates a burning solo on "Half Baked" (not an an apt description for this "flaming" track).  There are also several moments where Binney caresses the melody line; for example, he builds a lovely statement on "Another Life" that is emotionally satisfying and musically rich.

One notices several things about John Escreet -you can never be quite sure where this music is going and he rarely repeats himself on solos.  He is thoughtful and exciting, a musician who, if he chose, could play rings around other players.  Instead he creates pieces that have fascinating melodies, arrangements that show off the soloists and ideas that resonate with the listener long after the last song ends.  His willingness to move away from any semblance of a "comfort zone" is yet another cogent reason to pay attention this challenging and entertaining recording. Several of the tracks blend acoustic piano and electronics in exciting and impressive fashion.  The interaction of piano and synthesizer on "As the Moon Disappears" is smartly done and, when Escreet begins to whistle the melody, it's a lovely turn.  His arrangements also deserve praise for the way he knits the string work of Christian Howes into the mix as well as the appearance of trombonist Max Siegel and trumpeter Brad Mason on "A Day in Music."

John Escreet, at 26, is already an impressive musician and a composer who eschews boundaries. Thanks to David Binney for giving Escreet the platform for his lively and exciting music.  For more information, go to

I'm just catching up to tenor saxophonist-composer Walter Smith III and his latest recording.  Sort of self-titled, his third CD comes via Criss Cross Jazz and producer Gerry Teekens.  Released in September of 2010, I purchased the CD from Ed at Integrity 'n' Music in Wethersfield, CT - it's very possible that this fine store may be the biggest outlet for Criss Cross in the state.

Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, has toured and/or recorded with Terence Blanchard, Mose Allison, Christian Scott and many more.  He has a lighter tone but a strong attack while he writes pieces with strong melody lines and rhythmic patterns that are not always "standard jazz-style."  He's assembled quite a group including the seemingly ubiquitous Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Joe Sanders (bass), the splendid drummer Eric Harland and pianist Jason Moran (alto saxophonist Logan Richardson appears on 1 track.)  The program commences with "Working Title" and, after a handsome unaccompanied tenor statement, the quintet moves into the body of the tune, ushered in by the exciting "give-and-take" in the rhythm section. Harland skitters around beneath the hard-edged trumpet solo while the bassist adds counterpoint and Moran contributes abstract colors.  The drummer's conversational style varies between excited and subdues under Smith's tenor solo and flat-out drives when Moran takes his dizzying romp.  The trumpeter sits out "Capital Wasteland", a medium-tempo, thoughtful, work with a finely-constructed melody.  The pianist draws a ruminative picture on his solo, as if surveying the landscape while Smith rises above the city like an eagle.  His style may remind some of Mark Turner in that both musicians are thoughtful soloists who build their statements logically from the harmonies and rarely, if ever, overplay. 

Other highlights include the lovely tenor-piano duet "Aubade". co-written by Moran and the late Andrew Hill - the melody lines emerges out of the quiet piano chords and holds one spellbound.  The spell is immediately broken on the following track, "Byus", with Harland's explosive opening statement. The piece blends many different elements (you can hear funk, straight-ahead jazz, and more) as the band moves forward.  Fellow Houstonians Moran and Harland create a propulsive dialogue alongside Sander's ever-mutating bass counterpoint.  Akinmusire's "Henya", a sparkling melody, is given the gentle treatment it deserves - this is the 3rd version of this song to be released in the past year (on Akinmusire's Blue Note release and a haunting rendition on the new Gretchen Parlato CD). The melody and harmonies offer so many possibilities that one could play them back-to-back and hear something new each time.

"III" is delightful creative music and, if you have not heard it yet, wait no longer. Turn up the volume and let these delicious sounds wash over you.  For more information, go to

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