Brian Lynch’s “Bus Stop Serenade”

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LYNCH: 24/7. Afinque. On the Dot. Bus Stop Serenade. Clairevoyance. Woody Shaw. Before the First Cup. Charles Tolliver. Keep Your Circle Small / Brian Lynch, tpt/fl-hn; Jim Snidero, a-sax; Orrin Evans, pno; Boris Kozlov, bs; Donald Edwards, dm / Hollistic Music Works HMW19

Since this album was rated one of the best of the year 2021 by Jazz Times, I thought I’d check it out. Trumpeter and tune writer Brian Lynch recorded this as Vol. 1 of his “Songbook” series meant to display his talents in that direction; there’s also a Vol. 2 which contains alternate takes of eight of the nine pieces on this CD.

But Lynch’s compositions, though very complex, are not really original in any way except for his audacious use of underlying moving harmonies. What makes this album a standout are the arrangements, in which Lynch makes his quintet sound almost like a full band, and particularly the solos. This is truly a quintet of jazz virtuosi, all of whom play at an extremely high level, though the only names that were familiar to me were those of alto saxist Jim Snidero and bassist Boris Kozlov, who played for several years in the Mingus Big Band. He won a Grammy for one of the Mingus Band albums, but also for a previous recording he did with Lynch. The honors, in this case, were extremely well-deserved; like Mingus, Kozlov has a huge sound yet handles his instrument with the dexterity of an Eddie Gomez.

This is a band that not only plays in a tight fashion, but also consists of musicians who listen to each other and follow up on each others’ solos in a way that creates an almost continuous narrative of improvisation. What I mean by this is that no one in the quintet goes out of his way to “show off” his chops to the detriment of the music, and that is so rare in today’s jazz environment that just listening to how they complement each other is a special pleasure all by itself. The late jazz educator David Baker was always trying to impress on his students the importance of the jazz solo, not just as a means of personal expression but of something that enhances the composition, and I think he would really have appreciated this album in this respect.

For the most part, Lynch’s music is bop-oriented. If these recordings had appeared in the late 1940s instead of 2021, they would surely be considered jazz classics ahead of their time, but in our modern era of far more advanced and often free jazz, they are reminders of a time when this kind of jazz ruled the roost, which was into the early 1960s but not much further than that. Nonetheless, taken on its own merits, it’s rather astounding that such synergy could still be created in the cold, clinical environment of a modern recording studio, where everyone wears headphones to hear one another, has their separate microphone, and socially distance, Coronavirus or not.

As the drummer in the band, Donald Edwards has the least solo space. Normally, he’s just heard playing breaks, but in a track like On the Dot he clearly shows how much his contribution matters to the whole. Within the context of this collection, the more relaxed, medium-tempo Bus Stop Serenade is a standout because of the more attractive lead melody written by Lynch, but the extraordinarily high level of the solo work and the players’ affinity with each others’ style is evident in every track. Here, it almost seems as if Lynch and pianist Orrin Evans purposely kept some of their virtuosity in check in order to preserve the integrity of the whole piece.

On Woody Shaw, the whole band cooks like bacon on high heat; everything and everyone sizzles from start to finish, and again they way the soloists feed one another is almost beyond description. By way of contrast the next track, Before the First Cup, is extremely laid-back although Edwards’ press rolls and cymbal accents keep things a bit lively.

If I seem to be slighting leader Lynch, this is not really so. Although he has a good technique, his is not a blistering style of bop trumpet. but rather a measured, sensible approach, sort of a Chet Baker style, and each and every solo he plays is cut like a fine jewel. This is particularly true in Charles Tolliver, and here, after his solo, there’s an ensemble break before Snidero enters; and in this one instance, it sounded to me as if the altoist was purposely trying to contrast his playing with that of the leader, for he emerges on a very complex, double-time solo with some outside playing. When Evens later comes in with his piano solo, he takes the opposite route, playing rather minimally as Edwards suddenly shifts the tempo from a straight 4 to 3 for a few bars, and later “nudging” Evans with some deftly-placed drum accents under the beat.

As I said earlier, this is an outstanding album of straightahead jazz, creatively arranged and played to the Nth degree by outstanding soloists. Well worth investigating!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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