PALMER: Falling In. Landscape With an Obelisk [Flinck]. Kalispel Bay. Self-Portrait [Rembrandt]. Program for an Artistic Soiree [Degas] / Jason Palmer, tpt; Mark Turner, t-sax; Edward Perez, bs; Johnathan Blake, dm / Giant Step Arts GSA 007 (live: Summit Rock in Central Park, New York City, May 31, 2021)
After trying to review two “jazz” albums, one of which was infected with the deadly disease of rock music and the other with the even deadlier one of maudlin, drippy music, it was a pleasure to be able to turn to a truly creative jazz musician who knows what he is about, trumpeter Jason Palmer.
There are many reasons for liking Palmer, but among those that impress me the most are:
1) His excellent tone and technical control, which allows him to play anything that comes into his head;
2) His highly imaginative compositions, which fortunately are all jazz and owe nothing to rock or fusion;
3) His fully integrated band members, who are all on his wavelength and thus contribute greatly to each and every performance.
And that is exactly what we get in this outstanding set, performed live at Summit Rock, a part of Seneca Village, which was founded by free black Americans in 1825, and is in turn now a part of Central Park, where people take their lives in her hands by walking through at night. A lot has changed since 1825, and not all for the better.
But the appearance of Palmer’s quartet is clearly one of them. Listening to the opening track, Falling In, one wonders how much of this was written out—Palmer is credited as the composer—and how much was improvised into being. Not that it matters a great deal, but Youth Wants to Know. As is usual on Palmer’s Giant Step Arts albums, the recorded sound is perfect: close but ambient and very warm. You miss nothing because the microphones are placed in such a way that everything is captured, yet nothing is exaggerated. These recordings have a great deal in common, sound-wise, with the superb ones made at Ronnie Scott’s London jazz club back in the 1960s and ‘70s. The warm, “coochy” feel of this recording brings Palmer and his group right into your listening space as if you were right there at the concert.
Although Mark Turner is a fine tenor saxist, Palmer’s solos are more cohesive as miniature compositions; they have real structure, a beginning, a development, and an ending, yet he makes them up as he goes along. The rhythm on this track is amorphous, constantly moving around thanks to the superb work of bassist Edward Perez (almost as fine an improviser as Palmer) and drummer Johnathan Blake. In one sense the band plays with a good, tight sound, but in another sense there is an incredible amount of interplay going on, counterpoint against counterpoint.
Three of the pieces in this set are named after artwork, Govert Flinck’s 1638 Landscape With an Obelisk formerly attributed to Rembrandt (though it really doesn’t look like his style at all), Rembrandt’s famous Self-Portrait, and Edgar Degas’ pencil sketch Program for an Artistic Soiree, but these seem to be but loosely related to the pictures themselves. Nonetheless, they are interesting, the first of them opening with a quite extensive drum solo before Palmer and Turner come in as a duo, playing the brief theme in thirds before they take off on their solos. In an odd way, this piece, and Palmer’s solo, seem to be circular, not in the sense of repeating circular licks as Coltrane used to do in the sense that all of the music played seems to circle back on itself. It’s hard to describe, but when you hear it I think you’ll understand. And yet, this piece ends with a brief, soft, slow coda.
Kalispel Bay has some bop overtones, particularly in the rhythm of Palmer’s opening theme statement, and even though the rhythm plays rather irregular beats-between-the-beats, there’s a sort of Dizzy Gillespie Cubano-bop feel to this piece throughout. The solos, perhaps purposely, ramble a bit, as if one were enjoying a landscape and not wanting to move too much, at least until Palmer’s longer, more extended solo in the middle which, though staying primarily on two chords (except for the bridge), says a great deal.
When we reach Self-Portrait, we realize that the allusions to artwork are simply symbolic, but it doesn’t matter because the music is interesting using some circular figures in the middle section of the theme. The continual interplay of Palmer, Turner and the rhythm section continue throughout this set, as do the excellent solos of all concerned.
This is the kind of jazz concert you wish you were at, to get the ambience of the players in person as the music passes by your ears. I can only hope that Palmer will continue to play and prosper as the years go on; I hear even more untapped potential in both his writing and playing that I look forward to his bringing out.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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