September 17, 2001
The Ilya Tree
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A few years ago, when tenor master Sonny Rollins gave concerts and recorded with tyros such as trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the conventional jazz media couldn't contain its enthusiasm. Here was a respected jazz elder statesman conferring his blessings on some Young Lions they proclaimed. The fact that Rollins had often formed one-off partnerships with other younger musicians during the proceeding 30 years, and that other elder jazzers often did the same, appeared to have escaped their notice.
Yet if the official jazz outlets paid proper attention to so-called outside music, those same huzzahs should be trotted out for this accomplished quartet session. On it Connecticut-based saxophonist Paul Flaherty, who with his long white beard and hair looks like an Old Testament prophet, is joined in the front line by young Boston-based trumpeter Greg Kelley, who had only graduated from the conservatory a couple of year before this. Bassist John Voigt and drummer Laurence Cook, who, singly or together, have worked with other seminal improvisers such as saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and trumpeter Bill Dixon provide the powerful backing.
Shunning the sort of standards Rollins prefers, the four cement their fellowship with seven spontaneous compositions. It's tempting to say that Kelley — who performs in nmperign, an improv duo with saxophonist Bhob Rainey — proves himself by fitting in with the conceptions of Flaherty, who has been perusing creative sounds for almost 30 years, and Voigt and Cook, who have internalized new music for almost that long. But, while the timid should be warned that Kelley's solo and duo work is even less song oriented than what he does here, THE ILYA TREE isn't a bebop-style, cutting contest.
Instead each man contributes what he does best and each track falls, or more usually rises, on what individual characteristics are appended to the tune. Thus the long dissonant cries that reverberate from either of Flaherty's saxophones are often matched with staccato inferences from the trumpeter, while the bassist plucks or bows tiny grace notes and Cook perspicaciously imbues the proceedings with just the right amount of percussion stamina.
Sometimes the blended horn lines will be so protracted that they almost seem conventionally romantic. Other times a speedy plunger riff from Kelley suggests Cootie Williams in the cosmos, or Flaherty will introduce the sort of dissonance that will make his sax either resemble a foghorn or seem to be digging recalcitrant notes out of a very deep hole in twos and threes.
Perhaps the best description of what happens is the title of one tune: "Sense of Trust". By believing in and trusting one another on this, there first recorded encounter, the four have created a CD that ranks as highly in improv circles as a few of Rollins' earlier discs do in more conventional ones.
Those who value valve vibrations will vault towards Kelley's solo disc; others may be vexed. Almost 42 minutes of solo trumpet may sound daunting. But open-minded brass fanciers will find much to praise because Kelley, a Peabody Conservatory graduate, to give his bona fides, showcases his instrument by practically eviscerating it.
By reducing the vaulted trumpet — and by extension trumpet playing — to its simplest components, he ignores tempo and melody for the simple components of valves, bore, tubing, metal, breath, spit and movement.
Throughout the 12 enigmatically titled — and sometimes untitled — tracks he transforms an instrument which has remained static since the 19th century into a claxon or a rhythm machine. Buzz saw tones, foghorn reverberations, lip kisses, wind tunnel trills and the sounds of rubbing and crunching metal appear, as do passages that could be a small fire being lit, a dental hygienist at work or a locomotive leaving a station. Air forced through the valves at different speeds, velocities and intensity makes up the longest track, which extends a note — and its echoes —through lip vibrations and throat whistles. While most of the disc is very quiet — turn your sound system's volume up to catch all the nuances — a few passages are unconscionably loud.
Of interest to those intrigued by the trumpet's versatility and its future, this disc isn't for everyone. But its conception and originality make it much more valuable than any three Young Lion retread CDs you can name.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Glimmer of Hope 2. Sense of Trust 3. Space in Which We Live 4. Dragon in the Sand 5. Centered in Gratitude 6. With Compassion 7. Life Still Cherished
Personnel: Greg Kelley (trumpet); Paul Flaherty (alto and tenor saxophones); John Voigt (bass); Laurence Cook (drums, percussion)
Track Listing: 1. [blank] 2. Eyelids play their game (or: tiny blue tongues of suffocated birds) 3. Inhale stale air (or: just outlines, just hollow bodies, no color) 4. [blank] 5. If i ever have reason to write out my last words in blood i'll write this 6. [blank] 7. ————— 8. [blank] 9. [blank] 10. i am not about to rip masks off anyone 11. [blank] 12. how can i ever misplace you
Personnel: Greg Kelley (trumpet)