THE CONCERT: 12 MUSINGS FOR ISABELLA / PALMER: A Lady and Gentleman in Black (Rembrandt). Cortege aux Environs do Florence (Degas). La Sortie de Pasage (Degas). Christ in the Storm in the Lake of Galilee (Rembrandt). A French Imperial Eagle Finial (French sculpture). Chez Tortoni (Manet). Program for an Artistic Soiree (Degas). An Ancient Chinese Gu. The Concert (Vermeer). Landscape With an Obelisk (Flinck). Self Portrait (Rembrandt). Three Mounted Jockeys (Degas) / Jason Palmer, tpt; Mark Turner, t-sax; Joel Ross, vib; Edward Perez, bs; Kendrick Scott, dm / Giant Step Arts GSA 004 (live: New York, May 23-24, 2019)
Trumpeter Jason Palmer, whose debut album on Giant Step Arts I raved about in an earlier review, presents here a musical tribute to the 13 works of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990. These paintings were never found, nor were the thieves. Twelve of the 13 are represented here in his music.
One of the reasons I like Palmer’s music so much is that, in addition to being innovative jazz with excellent solos all round, his compositions have real shape and form. Even the most fragmented melodic lines, as for instance in the opener (A Lady and Gentleman in Black), are developed clearly in his and his bandmates’ solos. Palmer himself is clearly from the school of Gillespie and Brownie, which in itself is a good thing; he has an incredibly range on his instrument, yet every note is perfectly centered and placed so that it makes its impact without his having to resort to screaming or overblowing. His bandmates also have a clear sense of design and form when they play, particularly tenor saxist Mark Turner whose sense of structure is on a par with that of the leader.
Without having seen the paintings on which these pieces are based, I couldn’t say much about how well they capture the feeling of the artwork, but I have located images of some of them and have posted them here for your edification. Palmer’s music is certainly atmospheric and very creative. Cortege aux Environs do Florence has a rather delicate tracery in its melodic line that is very attractive, and once again the music has a very definite form. I suspect that Palmer must also have an interest in and some knowledge of classical music, even if just contemporary classical, because his ability to come up with interesting lines and even more interesting (and often moving) harmonies behind them bespeaks someone who is a real student of music. This track also has a very nice vibes solo by Joel Ross. La Sortie de Pasage is a gentle piece in which a melody with a feeling of 3/4 is played against a steady 4 rhythm.
Christ in a Storm in the Lake of Galilee is one of the more curious pieces on this album, starting out with a rather long drum solo by Kendrick Scott that is both simple and complex, followed by the theme statement played by Ross before Palmer and Turner enter with a series of staccato chord interjections. The leader then embarks on his solo, which creates its own sort of theme, followed by Ross and then Turner. Perhaps due to the implication of a storm, the music here is more fragmented, with less overall shape than the preceding pieces. Towards the end of the piece, Palmer introduces a fast, serrated melodic line played by himself and Turner upon which he and the others improvise.
Having seen the sculpture on which it is based (see photo), I’m not as certain about A French Imperial Eagle Finial except that it seems to be, like the preceding piece, a more abstract view of the art than some of the other pieces. This is in sort of a fast samba beat, again with a very minimal melodic line but several interesting extended solos. Palmer’s own seems to be compiled here of short riffs followed by extended fantasies built on those riffs.
Manet’s Chez Tortoni, a painting of a middle-aged man sitting at an outdoor café, begins with a rather delicate, somewhat slow-moving pizzicato bass solo before moving into a quasi-Latin beat with a quirky but interesting melodic line. When Palmer enters for his solo, following a rather lyrical one by Ross, he is almost exploding with jagged, high-lying lines. Turner emulates his jaggedness but in a lower register and with quite different results, but that doesn’t stop Palmer from continuing in this vein in his second solo. In An Ancient Chinese Gu, there is some very clever meter-changing from 4 to 3 behind the solos.
It would, perhaps, not be that helpful to describe all of the pieces here in so much detail, as it might detract somewhat from the first-time listener’s enjoyment. Suffice it to say that all of the pieces here have their own interesting twists and turns, and all are different. This is the mark of a first-rate composer, regardless of musical genre.
The Concert is a two-hour journey in sound through the musical mind of Palmer, and that in itself is worth hearing. This album is extraordinary in every respect.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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