The Soul of Grace
Soul Note 121317-2

While large institutions like Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center trip over one another funding jazz repertory bands in an attempt to fill their (overpriced) seats, more contemporary improvisers scramble to find locations in which and ensembles to perform their compositions.

That's why the Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP) came into existence in 1990. It's designed to commission, showcase and record new works with different-sized ensembles. And this fine disc centers on the compositions of MNMP's artistic director, guitarist Paul Nash.

Don't imagine that GRACE is an act of self-dealing, though. Nash, who has worked in both jazz and new music for decades, writes agile chamber works. Built up on a low brass cushion and a subtle beat, he has internalized the lessons of "soft bop", most associated with Benny Golson, Gil Evans and (sometimes) Charles Mingus, but which reached its zenith in the 1950s aggregations and compositions of Gigi Gryce.

Unlike some of the imitative "young lions", though, Nash has moved far beyond his sources, so a tune may as likely have a Evans-style muted color palate as some Mingus-like incandescence. Nash also has a fondness for lightening quick tempo changes that are all his own.

Moreover as a guitarist, Nash brings a different resonance and conception to the CD. His touch both on electric and acoustic is light and he never wears out his welcome with extensive solos. More often than not he limits himself to comping, unless its short out-of-time acoustic breaks such as on "Marigail". Elsewhere he opens up space for other musicians, such as Carney who balances "The Wheel" on his solid electric bass, or longtime Mingus sidemen Walrath, who on "Cathexis" showcases his clear, light tone.

If there's any criticism that should be directed towards GRACE, it's that Nash never abandons control long enough to let any tune explode with passion. He's set the standard, with this disc, though, so next time perhaps he'll really let himself go.

-Ken Waxman

Tracks: 1. The Phoenix 2. The Wheel 3. Restless Is the Soul of Grace 4. Cathexis (A Kind of Blues) 5. Recursivephonic 6. Marigail-Marigold 7. Passacaglia

Jack Walrath (trumpet); David Taylor (bass trombone); Tom Varner (French horn); Bruce Williamson (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Abram Fever (soprano and tenor saxophone); Neal Kirkwood (piano); Paul Nash (guitar); Andy McKee (bass) or Jeff Carney (electric or acoustic bass); Grisha Alexiev (drums)