VLATKO KUCAN

Live at Paolo-Palo
True Muze TUMU CD 9803

Bassist William Parker's tune "The Bluest Jay" recorded on SUNRISE IN THE TONE WORLD (Aum Fidelity) was dedicated to another American bassist, Jay Oliver, who died at 50 in 1993 of lung and heart problems. Yet this CD is one of the few examples we have of Oliver's art.

Born in Douglas, Ariz., Oliver spent his final decade in Berlin, where his solid, unspectacular timekeeping allowed him to play with a variety of top-flight improvisers. Often he added his skills to this regularly working international combo, which at this junction was filled out by a Yugoslav (Kucan), a German (Danner), another American (Elgart) and the wild card, dramatic Polish trumpeter Stanko.

That's both the sadness and the superiority underlying this release. For while it was organized to feature the compositions and soloing of Oliver, he and the other musicians are overshadowed by the trumpeter. Freed from the hushed, exalted ECM atmosphere in which he usually labors, Stanko can unleash his full-bodied brassy tone on tunes like "Gigolo" or lob treetop high notes into a post bop recital like "Tuba Tune", with its arching soprano saxophone lines and expected subterranean tuba rumbles.

"Paris Blues" — an Oliver free jazz excursion original, not the Duke Ellington soundtrack score — features a warm, cello-like arco intro from Oliver and some stratospheric saxophone vocalizing from Kucan. It pinpoints the combo's cohesiveness, as does the bassist's other original, "Dance of the Robot People". With its prancing head, enough space is allocated there to showcase Danner's guttural trombone tone. More impressively "'Round Midnight" — which is inexorably heading for status as the Monk tune, most in need of a recording vacation — is almost successfully revived. Recast to showcase Oliver's arco lines, the melody and the horns wait nearly until the end to enter, with the finishing touch applied by funereal cymbal clips from Elgart.

That solo reveals Oliver's status as a fine journeyman, but, still, it's also obvious he's no trailblazer like Stanko. Then again it's these selfless back-up players who create the cushion upon which sparkling solos can be displayed.

Let's honor Oliver and retitle this CD: Requiem for a Team Player.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dance of the Robot People 2. Gigolo 3. Paris Burn 4. Floating 5. Tuba Tune 6. 'Round Midnight

Personnel: Thomas Stanko (trumpet); Michael Danner (trombone, tuba); Vlatko Kucan (soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet); Jay Oliver (bass); Bill Elgart (drums)