Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jack Walrath (tpt); Abraham Burton (t-sax); George Burton (pn); Boris Kozlov (db); Donald Edwards (dr)
STEEPLECHASE 31722 (63:27)
Jack Walrath was the lead trumpet in Charles Mingus’s last bands and also helped Mingus with some of the arrangements on his last recording sessions, which produced
Me, Myself an Eye
Something Like a Bird.
He has, of course, been going his own way since, but because his own way is musically
and metrically challenging music, much like that of his former employer, he has not been fortunate enough to find a marketing niche. Good for him, because this album, like other music of his I’ve reviewed in the past, is simply great jazz that falls a little outside of the ordinary categories. The band is truly excellent, featuring some of the finest musicians currently on the New York scene. It should be pointed out that George Burton, who grew up in Philadelphia, and Abraham Burton, who grew up in New York of Belize descent, are not related, thus in this review I shall refer to them by first name rather than by last.
Take, for instance, the opening number,
A Fog Sets in Vienna
. It starts out with a sort of funky, loping rhythm, switches to a rock beat for a few bars, then moves into a straight four before returning to the original rhythm—and the melodic structure has the same kind of angularity that was a Mingus trademark. George’s piano solo is mostly single-note, right-hand playing with chord interjections from the left, Bud Powell style, but his coruscating lines are entirely his own. Listening to Walrath’s trumpet playing is an exceptional joy. Not only are his improvisations logically constructed, but they have many elements of surprise to them, and his tone has become much better centered and full over the years. Abraham’s tenor sax has the kind of vibratoless tone that has become the preferred style of playing in our post-Coltrane world, and he, too, stretches the limits of his instrument in his solo.
Walrath admits that the title of
has no meaning, but is just a bit of fun to name a piece that begins with an almost Classical-era-structured piano solo. The trumpet and tenor sax play alternately, in hocket style, for a few bars, occasionally coming together in harmony. Here, the music falls into a proto-Latin rhythm on and off, constantly shifting, changing its meter as well as its feel. Another classical-style piano solo, this time with bass, rounds off the piece.
is an extended jam in which the various musicians listen very carefully to each other and feed off each other’s inspiration. The full, rich tone of Kozlov’s bass is as much a joy to the ear as the light, playful feeling of his solo. Some of Walrath’s solo on this track puts me in mind of Fats Navarro and Thad Jones, even though the overall construction is entirely original. Abraham Burton is also especially inventive on this track. Walrath interjects some really wild shakes in the upper range of his horn toward the end of Abraham’s solo, just before George Burton comes in.
The liner notes say that Walrath had been listening to Monk’s
’Round About Midnight
when he wrote
Slightly After Midnight
, but except for the opening section it sounds much more like Mingus than Monk. Indeed, this is one of the more complex pieces on the CD, here not only changing the feel of the rhythm within a generally steady pulse but actually fragmenting the piece, using different tempos as well as rhythms for different parts of it. Following hard on its heels is the uptempo romp
The Resurrection Machine
, which is the most atonal piece on the CD. Abraham’s tenor solo is particularly original and striking in this one, as is George’s piano, which has touches of Cecil Taylor. Suddenly, after the piano solo, the tempo relaxes into a more conventional 4/4 before moving temporarily into a rock beat.
, despite some unusual meter, sounds almost a straightforward romp compared to some of the other pieces on this set, and in the coda the band drops down to what used to be called a comfortable medium tempo, just right for swinging without sounding pressed, before doubling up again for a wild finale.
High Plains Riffer
constantly alternates between a steady four and more syncopated rhythm. This is almost an old-fashioned swinger, with Abraham Burton sounding a bit more like some of those great 1950s bop saxists (think Gigi Gryce). Because of its more conventional structure, this piece is more of a challenge for George on piano, yet he comes through splendidly, and when Walrath enters—from high up in his range—it is to swoop down on proceedings like a happy-hearted hawk who has already found his prey for the day.
Yet, A Tear Tells Its Tale
, in slow 3/4, quickly becomes a funky waltz thanks to the rhythmic accents of the band, but it is with
—a piece inspired by Native American music that Walrath heard at the Crow Fair in Montana—that some of the most unusual harmonies and playing are heard, particularly in the eccentric intro but even in the breaks of the main piece. Again, the rhythms fluctuate rather wildly, frequently, and unpredictably in this piece, and the rhythm section really cooks behind Walrath’s solo, suddenly streamlining its rhythm behind George Burton before reverting to the funkier beat for solos by Kosloz (plucked) and drummer Edwards.
The title of
I Lost My Mind in San Bernardino
refers to a high-society wedding that Walrath played once, a type of gig he has since sworn off forever. The music is at an up but not manic tempo in which everyone sounds comfortable and at their inspired best. Abraham Burton has the wonderful knack of sounding both hot and cool at the same time: He plays with great drive, yet always sounds laid-back, as if there is always plenty more in reserve.
This is a first-rate album of a kind of jazz one seldom hears in person nowadays, when retro-bop still seems to rule the roost. Pushing the rhythmic envelope, and often the harmonic, has been a hallmark of Walrath’s own bands since at least the early 1990s, and he shows no signs of stagnation in the formulation of his musical ideas. Likewise, this recent quintet is surely one of the finest he has led. I can’t wait to hear if there are even more adventurous pieces in store for us with this lineup in future endeavors!
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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