October 22, 2001
Enja ENJ-9396 2
Among his other attributes, multi-reedman Marty Ehrlich has always been known as a melody man. And, as the title says, this euphonious CD brings these qualities even more to the fore.
Despite that promise and the standard horn-and-rhythm-section line up, be assured that this isn't one of those bucolic smooth jazz snorers or neo-con ballad fests. The woodwind specialist wrote most of the tunes here, and the covers he plays are from such unlikely sources as singer/songwriter Robin Holcomb, Jaki Byard, the late jazz pianist with whom Ehrlich studied and played, and Bob Dylan, who as they say, needs no introduction.
Except for a couple of tunes, Ehrlich doesn't offer up the standard kind of arrangement either. Plus his sidemen are also noted for adventurous work. Pianist Uri Caine, who splits most of the solos with the saxophonist, for instance, is best known for his recasting of music by classical icons Wagner, Bach and Mahler. Bassist Michael Formanek is a frequent associate of prickly altoist Tim Berne, and drummer Billy Drummond is an in-demand New York session player.
Wild card here on one track is the ebullient Ray Anderson, an Ehrlich associate since the late 1970s. He adds his sense of humor and raucous trombone manipulation to "Blue Boye's Blues", a tune the reedist obviously wrote in homage to another of his inspirations and playing partners, the late altoist Julius Hemphill, the original Blue Boye.
Alluding to Hemphill's usual compositional mix of outside licks and funky blues, Ehrlich's slinking alto phrasing, the trombonist's quasi-Dixieland blats and some spooky silent movie house-style piano from Caine quickly builds up to a boisterous Sanctified Church style theme. After a section that sounds as if Anderson is deboning his instrument from every chromatic position, the pianist introduces some soulful 1960s piano chords which in turn pushes the altoist to create the sort of soulful blues licks he — and Hemphill — would have created in their St. Louis youth.
If that tune rollicks with energy, "The Falling Rains of Life", another homage, is an altogether more sombre affair. Performed by Byard, its composer on his famous 1968 WITH STRINGS LP with Ray Nance, Ron Carter and George Benson, here Ehrlich's legato bass clarinet fills the dual rolls of Nance's violin and Carter's cello. With the ballad performed at a brisker tempo than Byard's original reading, the woodwind's usual morose tone adds a cloak of sadness to it, intensified with Caine's conclusive treble keystroke.
"Rains..." mood had been carried over from Ehrlich's "Fauve", a meandering soprano saxophone feature that is the longest tune on the disc. It's probably named for the early 20th century painting style that used intensely vivid, non-naturalistic, contrasting colors and which numbered Matisse, Marquet, Braque, and Dufy among its adherents.
Curiously enough "Greensleeves" and Chick Corea's "500 Miles High" are suggested by "Fauve's" theme, rather than anything as French musically as Fauvism was visually. Once the tune gets going however, it turns out that Ehrlich's meringue-like delivery merely supplies the froth on top of a straightforward, swinging jazz (y) composition.
Nicely situated in the program, Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" recalls those times in the 1970s when soul/jazz saxists like Eddie Harris or Hank Crawford would do their versions of pop-folk tunes. Standout work here comes from Caine, whose double-time embellishments lead to a protracted gospelish finish.
With its 21st century melodies given an atypical twist, SONG's title may be too short to itemize all the inventive melodies and fine playing included on the disc.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Waltz 2. The Price Of The Ticket 3. Day Of The Dark Bright Light 4. Blue Boye's Blues* 5. I Pity The Poor Immigrant 6. Fauve 7. The Falling Rains Of Life
Personnel: Ray Anderson (trombone)*; Marty Ehrlich (alto and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet); Uri Caine (piano); Michael Formanek (bass); Billy Drummond (drums)