Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Next Roundup (Part 3 - Eric, Donald & Jon)

As an artist, bassist Eric Revis does not sit still.  He has been a member of the Branford Marsalis Quartet since 1997, has been touring and recording with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel for the past several years and is, with pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Nasheet Waits, an integral member of the cooperative Tarbaby.

Revis has also issued 3 CDs for Portugal's Clean Feed and each is different from the other. In 2012, he released "Parallax" with his 11:11 group featuring Ken Vandermark (reeds), Jason Moran (piano) and Mr. Waits.  2013 brought "City of Asylum", a trio date with pianist Kris Davis and drum master Andrew Cyrille, recorded the first time they got together.  For his new Clean Feed release, he recruited Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone), Darius Jones (alto saxophone) and Chad Taylor (drums, vibes) and created "In Memory of Things Yet Seen".  The results are attractive, blending fiery improvisations with introspective ballads, wailing saxophones with a thunderous rhythm section, and stately melodies with smart interplay.  Branford even shows up for a pair of tracks, the hard-driving "Unknown" and the rubato "FreeB."  The former features a solid beat from the rhythm section with the 3 saxophonists blowing strong while the latter is a short (2:37) but hot "free-for-all."

Revis's composition, "The Tulpa Chronicles", comes in 3 parts (cuts 1, 6 and 11) with the first, "Proem", opening the program on a meditative note, Taylor creating a trance-like feel with a 4-note figure on the vibes while striking a cymbal and the reeds delivering a quiet melody.  Part 2, "Ephemeral Canvas", builds off the simple cymbal rhythm for a handsome bass solo; halfway through the 2-minute piece, Taylor slams the tune into high gear and the reeds play an entrancing melody.  Part 3, "For Cordel "Boogie" Mosson", takes the forceful rhythm from Part 2 and expands upon it with great bowed bass and that fine melody line. (Cordel "Boogie" Mosson was the bassist in George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic, joining the band in 1971 - he passed in April of 2013 at the age of 60.)

The interplay of McHenry's tenor and Jones' alto works smartly atop the forceful bass presence and Taylor's hard-edged drumming. A piece such as "Son Seals" give the saxophonists plenty of room to blow but the arrangement leaves room for a bass solo and several tempo changes.  "Somethin's Cookin'" (composed by drummer Sunny Murray for his Untouchable Factor ensemble - the tune appears on 1976's "Wildflowers: The New York Jazz Loft Sessions") has the bass taking the lead and horns playing counterpoint while the drums dance and cymbals shimmer. McHenry composed the sweet ballad "3 Voices", notable for the conversational drum work and its quiet melody.  He also contributed the CD closer, "If You're Lonesome, Then You're Not Alone", another fine ballad with a melody one might hear coming from an Americana group.  Jones sole composition is "Hold My Snow Cone", an ironic title for such a melancholy tune. Taylor's funky "A Lesson Earned" has a soulful saxophone melody line, a throbbing bass line and a wicked beat.

The quartet fires on all cylinders as they attack Sun Ra's "The Shadow World." The piece opens with a forceful bass solo over Taylor's complimentary percussion. Just over 60 seconds into the song, the rhythm section sets a furious pace over which the saxophonists present the melody in a calm fashion before both men deliver incendiary solos.

"In Memory of Things Yet Seen" will certainly wake all your senses.  Eric Revis has proven over the course of his 5 releases as a leader that he can mesh strong melodic lines with rhythms that push the boundaries yet rarely dissolve into mere noise.  His new group and recording matches 2 saxophonists, each with his own individual "sound", with a rhythm section that works great together, whether "locked in" or working in counterpoint.  The quartet is currently on tour in Europe; when they return, the bassist hits the road with the Marsalis Quartet for 5 weeks.  Let's hope Eric Revis gets to take this fine group out to many cities in the US.  For more information, go to

Drummer Donald Edwards, born in New Orleans, studied music at Southern University in Baton Rouge and went on to be one of the more sought-after musicians in Louisiana.  After moving to New York City, he began working with musicians such as Tom Harrell, Conrad Herwig, Dave Holland, Stefon Harris and many others.  In the past few years, Edwards has recorded with pianist Orrin Evans, The Mingus Big Band, the Criss Cross label supergroup Opus 5 (with Seamus Blake, Alex Sipiagin, Boris Kozlov and David Kikoski) and pianist Joey Calderazzo.

"Evolution of An Influenced Mind" is his debut as a leader for the Criss Cross label (his 3rd overall.)   The Quintet on the album includes pianist Evans, bassist Eric Revis, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist David Gilmore.   10 of the 11 tunes are composed by Edwards (the lone exception is "When", composed by the pianist) but don't expect this to be a loose conglomeration of jams linked by drum solos.  Edwards has a good ear for melody, making excellent use of his band.  One major exception is the opening track, "American Drum Call to Mama", which utilizes an overdubbed gospel choir with Edwards improvising below them.  "History of the Future" is next, an uptempo piece that utilizes electric piano to fill out the sound.  The rhythm section is quite active under the fine solos with Edwards getting his own spotlight 90 seconds before the close of the tune.

What's most impressive over multiple listenings is how each player is integral to the songs, whether it be the blend of electric guitar and tenor saxophone on the melody line of "Niecee" as well as Revis's strong support or the beautiful melody of "The Dream", with Evans' piano lines wrapping around the acoustic guitar.  The latter track is such a quiet piece yet the interplay is intense and shimmering.  The funky and sly "Dock's House" (Dock is the drummer's dad, a classical pianist) is a slippery dance piece with strong solos from Smith III, Evans and Gilmore.  "Not Really Gumbo" is a tribute to the Crescent City, more influenced by Astral Project than The Meters, displaying Edwards' mastery of poly rhythms.    During Evans' hearty piano solo, the drummer really drives the beat.  Gilmore's distorted guitar blends well with the electric piano and sax on "Nightmare of Fun" - there are several moments when Edwards joins in on the melody.  The rhythm section gets to romp on "The Essential Passion", Revis's hard-driving walking bass lines pushing the beat along with the leader's ride cymbal.   There's a strong r'n'b feel to "Culmination for Now", Smith III's smoky tones a good match for the sustained tones of Gilmore's electric guitar.

"Evolution of An Influenced Mind" may not take hold on your first listen but you'd be wise to let the music soak in.  The pieces that Donald Edwards composed and arranged for this session favors no one player and it's the sense that this is a unified group that clearly comes through.  On top of all that, Edwards is a mighty fine drummer and, when paired with bassist Eric Revis, truly commands your attention.  For more information, go to  

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is one busy musician.  Over the past 2 years, he has toured and recorded with Mostly Other People Do The Killing, done the same with trumpeter Dave Douglas, with Mike Pride's From Bacteria To Boys, guitarist Mary Halvorson's Septet, drummer Rudy Royston's 303, and drummer Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor.  He has started his own label - Irabbagast Records - and released 2 different yet entertaining CDs.

In June of 2013, he traveled to Germany with Mr. Altschul and bassist Mark Helias to play at the Peitz Jazz Festival.  Armed with 8 of his compositions, the band played a strong set which is now being released on the saxophonist's label in conjunction with the German Jazzwerkstatt label. Irabagon is no stranger to the trio setting, having recorded "Foxy" with Mr. Altschul and bassist Peter Brendler, a multi-sectioned 79-minute CD with no breaks.  The new album,
"It Takes All Kinds", is not as "hard-core" as "Foxy" but just as fiery.  The rhythm section is electric, with Mr. Helias providing a solid foundation (and excellent melodic work) and Mr. Altschul at the top of his game.  The drummer can be subtle (his kit work on "Elusive" is stunning, especially when he enters in the middle of the long bass solo) and he can forceful (as he displays on the opening "Wherewithal".) The manner in which the drummer drives "Pause and Flip" is exhilarating. When the song breaks for the bass solo, Mr. Altschul "colors" beneath Mr. Helias and then allows him to go it alone.  When he and the saxophonist re-enter, the energy level immediately fires back up and then slowly dissipates - the 3-way conversation is a highlight of the concert.  The bassist is often cast here in the role of the timekeeper, allowing the drummer to accent, insinuate, and act as counterpoint to the leader's solo work.  Mark Helias is one of the more melodic players on the scene but he also has a percussive side - listen how he opens "Sunrise", going from an intense series of phrases to becoming so quiet. When Irabagon enters, the rhythm section is so restrained, just right for the lovely melody.

The cover image of Don Quixote with Sancho Panza might make one think that the music contained on "It Takes All Kinds" is fraught with peril, loaded with pitfalls.  But, Jon Irabagon, along with Barry Altschul and Mark Helias, has created music that is full of life, with close interactions, with humor and and fun.  This is living music that deserves to be heard live.  In the meantime, grab ahold and enjoy the ride.  For more information, go to

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