Line on Love
Palmetto PM 2095

Don’t be put off by the title of this fine CD. Despite similar curly hair and use of saxophone, multi-reedman Marty Ehrlich hasn’t suddenly turned into Kenny G.

Instead he uses the almost 54 minutes of the session to prove that you can perform understated, mellifluous music without insulting anyone’s intelligence. The eight selections score because he and his rhythm section bring the same guts and techniques they would to an out-and-out free blow or technical experiment as they do to these more restrained ditties.

Known for his work with pianist Myra Melford, pianist Andrew Hill’s sextet, drummer Bobby Previte’s Bump and his own groups, Ehrlich has always been the melodist among outside musicians. Able to hold his own in avant company, he has never rejected euphony just to be fashionable. LINE ON LOVE, as a matter of fact is a follow up of sorts to 2001’s SONG CD. On that disc he covered tunes by singer/songwriters Robin Holcomb and Bob Dylan and pianist Jaki Byard. Here, though, while as song-like, the tunes are all his own.

On this disc, altoist Tim Berne’s associate Michael Formanek returns on bass, as does drummer Billy Drummond who often works with pianist Renee Rosnes. There’s a change at the piano bench though. Instead of Uri Caine, Craig Taborn, often heard with Berne and as a part of Roscoe Mitchell’s band, plays a restrained acoustic piano. Ehrlich mostly plays alto saxophone, as well as bass clarinet on “Solance” and “The Git Go”.

While embracing mellifluence, Ehrlich still subtly reinforces a harder output, so that the grace notes that spread from his reed like jelly on bread often add a bit of avant-garde pepper to the currant veneer of the tunes. This include irregular vibrations and dips into false registers. For instance, “Like I Said”, an overly boppish line includes double-timed slurs from the reedist and straightforward cymbal work from Drummond. Jaunty “Julian’s Theme” named for Ehrlich’s son, not altoist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, has him overblowing ever so slightly and extending the timbres. Screeches even find their way into the fading termination of his solo on “Solance”.

Blues inflections from both the alto and piano, coupled with a hearty shuffle rhythm from Drummond, surface on “St. Louis Summer”. Still the saxman’s intensity vibrato and trilling cries show that he can recreate the soul of his boyhood city if he wishes. Trained classically and someone who has performed contemporary classical music, his bass clarinet sound is a bit too “legit”. Aside from the odd run on “The Git Go”, his playing on the swollen licorice stick features none of the dissonance that has characterized jazzers on the instrument since the days of Eric Dolphy.

Taborn’s two-handed, arpeggio rich impressionism helps define the title tune, though as well as the definitely secular “Hymn”. Meanwhile his understated swing on pieces like “Julian’s Theme” and “Solance also reveal more of the straightforward melodic sense that he has kept under wraps since his earliest days in Young Lion saxophonist James Carter’s first quartet. Eschewing showiness, Formanek maintains the underlying pulse with solid, woody resonance. His one solo showcase on “Turn Circle and Spin” barely departs from the rhythmic function.

No avant-garde statement, but no smooth backgrounder either, LINE ON LOVE is the sort of modern, mainstream CD that wins listeners over with its sound without boxing their ears with its abrasiveness.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hymn 2. Like I Said 3. Line on Love 4. Julian’s Theme 5. Turn Circle and Spin 6. Solance 7. St. Louis Summer 8. The Git Go

Personnel: Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Craig Taborn (piano); Michael Formanek (bass); Billy Drummond (drums)