IMPRESSIONS IN BLUE: GOODMAN: No Man’s Land. Blue Shade Intro. Blue Shade. Moods. Space Behind Eugene Boch. Zen. Cobalt Blue. Still Life With Skull. MACBRIDE: Space Behind Eugene Boch Intro. NEVIN: Zen Intro. VAN GELDER: Still Life With Skull Intro . SIGNORELLI-MALNECK: I’ll Never Be the Same / Ben Van Gelder, a-sax; Alex Goodman, gtr; Martin Nevin, bs; Jimmy Macbride, dm
IMPRESSIONS IN RED / GOODMAN: Choose. Circles in a Circle. Impending. In Heaven Everything is Fine. Toys. Occam’s Razor. Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It. E.T. Sonata No. 12, Adagio Intro. Views in Perspective. LO RE: Impending Intro. HANCOCK: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It Intro. ROSENMULLER: Sonata No. 12, Adagio. FERBER: View in Perspective Intro. RODGERS-HAMMERSTEIN: If I Loved You / Alex LoRe, a-sax; Goodman, gtr; Rick Rosato, bs; Mark Ferber, dm / Outside In Music OIM2005
I don’t know where this is coming from, but we suddenly seem to be in the midst of a new fad in jazz CDs, the Cerebral Concept Album. Musicians who formerly were content to just write their music, record it, and see who likes it are now packaging their material swathed in high-flown phrases and philosophical/intellectual “concepts.”
This album. scheduled for digital release in March, is one such. After starting out with a pseudo-intellectual comment from John Dewey about how if all meaning could be adequately expressed in words the arts of painting and music would not exist (no kidding, John), it follows with a four-paragraph essay by Alex Goodman on synethesia, which some people have (the ability to “see” music as colors) and most don’t, which is in turn followed by a quote from Goethe on the color blue and one by Kandinsky, the man who more or less establishes synethesia, on the color red. And so on we go to a review of the actual music.
The opener of disc one (blue), titled No Man’s Land, presents alto saxist Ben Van Gelder, whose playing reminded me a good deal of the late Paul Desmond. After an amorphous introduction, the music settles into a nice funky jazz groove and is very well conceived and executed as music. Goodman is a really outstanding jazz guitarist who doesn’t play his instrument like a rock guitar, thank goodness, nor does he play his instrument with that wimpy soft sound that seems to be all the rage nowadays. After this, however, the reader must be careful in following the sequence of tunes, because some of the “introduction” pieces were written by his bandmates, though they directly precede the pieces by the same name written by Goodman, and the first CD concludes with the wonderful old Marry Malneck-Frank Signorelli standard, I’ll Never Be the Same.
Blue Shade is the only piece with an intro written by the same person, that being Goodman himself. The intro is an out-of-tempo, ruminating guitar solo before moving into the tune proper, in which the rhythm seems to run backwards. Van Gelder enters at about the 38-second mark, playing his own music in a forward rhythm but occasionally falling into Goodman’s reverse beat before leading the guitarist to the straight path. Once again, the two soloists build the music in an interesting, original yet logical fashion, allowing themselves to listen to each other and use their solo spots to continue what the other has just finished saying. Towards the end, Goodman seems to be quoting one of Django Reinhardt’s old tunes (the name escapes me at the moment, but it’s Django, all right).Moods sounds exactly like you thought it would: soft, slow music, but thankfully not wallowing in bathos or pathos.
The Space Behind Eugene Boch Intro isn’t really music, just a drum solo by Macbride, whereas the tune proper begins with no discernible meter, the music just sort of floating around sax and guitar licks before Macbride brings things into tempo a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the main theme of this piece particularly interesting, and Goodman’s guitar solo ruminates a bit too much. Goodman’s later solo throws in a brief quote from Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.
The Zen intro is a bass solo by Martin Nevin. I really wish that Goodman had simply tied these “intros” to the main tunes that they belong to; after all, a ton of jazz numbers begin with just one instrument playing. That doesn’t make it an “introduction” in the formal sense of the term, and in this case Zen itself is also played by the solo bass for one full chorus before the others enter. It’s a simple but nice theme. Van Gelder’s alto solo is excellent, full of ideas and making something interesting and complex out of the simple theme. Oddly, it stops in the middle of nowhere.
By contrast, Cobalt Blue is a very complex piece consisting of fast-moving eighth notes that jump around in an almost bitonal manner, initially played by guitar and then with the alto sax joining in. As in the previous two instances, the Still Life With Skull Intro is just an a cappella solo by one of the musicians, in this case Van Gelder, but in this case the fast, peppy intro does not prepare us for what is clearly one of Goodman’s most interesting pieces, almost a “third stream” composition in which a series of repeated Es on the guitar back a very strange, bitonal melodic line that continues to morph and develop even after the guitar ostinato drops out. This was, for me, the masterpiece of this album; it’s almost as good as some of Charles Mingus’ best pieces from the late 1960s or ‘70s. Bass and drums then play out-of-tempo (and rhythm) licks behind Goodman’s outstanding guitar solo. The blue portion of our program concludes with a very imaginative version of I’ll Never Be the Same, played by Goodman alone.
Now we move on to disc two (red). Except for Goodman on guitar, the personnel is quite different: Alex LoRe, whose sound is closer to a clarinet, is the alto saxist, Rick Rosato is the new bassist, and Mark Ferber is the drummer. The music is still very interesting in places but if a somewhat different character, being more uptempo (I guess that’s the “red” factor) and less impressionistic in quality. Choose is a tune that becomes ever more complex as it goes along, almost splitting into two competing lines right after the halfway mark. Goodman plays rapid triplets on guitar to propel the music along. LoRe’s playing, at least on this piece, is actually more minimal and less busy than Van Gelder’s.
Circles in a Circle is built around an ostinato series of low Es on the bass while Goodman plays what appear to be random chords and LoRe plays a swirling, amorphous melodic line. Parts of it put me a little in mind of some of Dave Brubeck’s more experimental pieces. Impending follows the same pattern as the split pieces on CD 1, the intro here being played solo by LoRe before moving into the tune proper. Here, Goodman plays some sustained chords on his guitar using the wah-wah pedal, something I could have lived without, and the beat is closer to rock music than jazz, but it is an interesting line, seemingly consisting of random notes but actually making a complete theme statement (just not a very attractive one). In Heaven Everything is Fine also has a somewhat quirky melodic line, but a harmonically interesting one, played by Goodman over bass and drums before LoRe enters with a quirky theme of his own. The saxist then gets the chance to expand his theme and make it the dominant one, followed by a Goodman solo.
Toys opens with a fast series of rising chromatic chords on guitar before moving into a pleasant but fairly innocuous tune. Goodman fairly dominates this track with interesting extended solos. Occam’s Razor also begins with a guitar solo, this time somewhat out of tempo and a bit ruminating, before settling into a steady beat and allowing LoRe to state the theme while Ferber plays paradiddles behind him. Yet Goodman again dominates this track. I wondered, at this point, if he really felt that LoRe was capable of taking this tune where he wanted it to go; the saxist does return later on, but only to re-state his theme while Goodman improvises around him.
Interestingly, according to the booklet, the solo bass into to Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It was composed not by our bassist but by Herbie Hancock. The melody itself isn’t fiery at all, but rather slow, soft and a bit bland. At the 40-second mark, the drums set up a slow marching beat and LoRe plays the simple but effective melodic line before the solos take over (including one by bassist Rosato). LoRe’s solo on this track is clearly one of his finest on the entire album, inventive while still staying within the basic framework of the piece.
E.T. is a slightly uneasy-sounding piece with a pseudo-samba beat and a simple but attractive top line. Oddly, on this track it is Goodman’s solo that seemed to me to ramble a bit; LoRe is right on the money with a very interesting solo, playing with his Lee Konitz tone. (Sidelight: One of my favorite Lee Konitz anecdotes is the time he told an audience that Bird complimented him on playing his own thing and not trying to “copy his shit.” Said Lee, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the only reason I didn’t copy his shit is that it was too hard for me to play!”)
The next track(s) are rather interesting. First, Goodman plays an out-of-tempo guitar solo, then we hear the “Adagio” from Johann Rosenmuller’s Sonata No. 12. I had to look Rosenmuller up online because I’d never heard of him. It turns out he’s one of those old-timey guys from the 17th century “who played a part in transmitting Italian musical styles to the north.” Well, cheers and beers for him. Since I don’t know the original piece I could only comment on the way the band played it here, and they certainly do make it complex and interesting, particularly LoRe, although Goodman gets some nice licks in.
View in Perspective consists of a solo drum into by Ferber followed by the piece itself. I found it a pleasant modern jazz tune if not a particularly interesting one. Goodman’s long solo has its ups and downs, being highly creative in places and just doodling around in others.
The “red” portion of our program concludes as did the blue, with a solo guitar interpretation of an oldie, in this case Rodgers and Hammerstein’s If I Loved You, and here Goodman is inventive in a very relaxed way.
So there you have it. An interesting excursion, to be sure, with some ups and some downs.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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