COREA: Bud Powell. Humpty Dumpty. MANDEL-MERCER: Emily. MONK: Well, You Needn’t. ‘Round Midnight. POWELL-DAVIS: Budo. PORTER: Just One of Those Things / Rodney Green Quartet: Green, dm; Warren Wolf, vib; Jacob Christoffersen, pn; David Wong, bs / Storyville 2017 (live: Copenhagen, February 18-20, 2016)
This is one of those really “feel-good” jazz sets that set your toes tapping and your heart dancing. Americans Rodney Green, Warren Wolf and David Wong are joined by Danish pianist Jacob Christoffersen for these joyous performances from the famed Jazzhaus Montmartre in Copenhagen, and the good vibes (no pun intended) are felt from start to finish. I was particularly impressed by Wolf’s playing, unfailingly inventive and quite virtuosic without ever sounding forced. In fact, what I liked more than anything was how buoyant Wolf sounded even in those moments when Green was clearly overplaying his drums, introducing too much “busy-ness” into the music. This was especially evident on the set’s opener, Bud Powell. Green played just fine behind Christoffersen’s piano solo, but sounded a bit too much all over the place behind Wolf.
Yet as I say, the overall vibe of this set is exuberant and hugely enjoyable jazz. What a pleasure it is to listen to music for its own sake without wondering what the beat is, how the chords morph, or what the political implications of the music are supposed to be. The tightness of the piano-bass combination behind Wolf is also a treat for the ear, particularly on Humpty Dumpty, and Green is more on the beat and less of a showoff here, too. The result is a performance that just glides, and swings, from start to finish, building in tension and excitement as it progresses. Christoffersen is particularly good here, too, flying along with the rhythm through a series of chromatically-influenced rapid phrases.
Johnny Mandel’s jazz waltz Emily is a rare moment of relaxation for the quartet, which plays it with mellow ease. Green also plays tastefully on this one, and Wolf plays one of his finest solos. Christoffersen plays sparsely behind a fine solo from bassist Wong. Next we get a two-tune tribute to Thelonious, Well, You Needn’t and ‘Round Midnight. The former is taken at an unusual pace: Wolf playing rapidly in the foreground while the rhythm section plays half-time behind him, at least until the theme statement is over and he begins soloing. I admit to a personal fondness for the vibes as an instrument, so it doesn’t bother me in the least that Wolf has so much solo space. I could listen to vibes players or harpsichords all day long and love every minute of it. Christoffersen is particularly felicitous and swinging here, too, coming up with some remarkable phrases and fills. In ‘Round Midnight the band takes a leisurely (13:20) stroll through Monk’s classic tune, although Christoffersen never tries to evoke the composer’s own playing style. At such a pace, Wolf has plenty of time to unfold his solo and he does so, albeit at double tempo for much of it. The pianist, by contrast, sticks to a more relaxed pace, playing mostly single notes in the right hand above occasional chords in the left. When Wolf returns, he is in the same relaxed groove as Christoffersen.
Having already played one tribute to Bud Powell, the band plays another: Budo, written by Powell himself and Miles Davis for the latter’s “birth of the cool” tuba band in 1949. This is a straightahead bebop romp, with Wolf in fine form and Christoffersen joyfully feeding him chords as he progresses. When the pianist plays his own solo, it is surprisingly un-Powell-like, being a rapid series of single notes played in what sounds like the middle of the keyboard, first leaning towards the bass and then moving up a bit into the treble, though he eventually becomes much busier and starts channeling his inner Bud.
The album ends with an old Cole Porter classic from Jubilee, Just One of Those Things. The quartet plays it at a very uptempo that simple glides, so swiftly that the familiar melody almost sounds like minimalism. When Wolf takes off, he has Wong’s propulsive bass to drive him, with Green playing very rapid paradiddles and Christoffersen feeding them staccato chords on the keyboard. This one really flies into the upper stratosphere! Even when Wolf stops playing, the Wong-Green duo keep on keepin’ on, pushing Christoffersen as well, though the pianist keeps his own council and plays his solo the way he wants to.
No two ways about it, this is an exciting and fun album. Get it!
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
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