Andy Jaffe Nonet+4

Arc
Playscape Records PSR#062315

For almost 40 years, respected educator and pianist Andy Jaffe has taught Jazz theory, improvisation, arranging, composition and history in many countries and Arc could be perceived as an aural workbook of his methods. Played by a group of distinguished Jazz journeymen with assists from a Taiwanese string quartet, the nine selections illuminate high-quality contemporary arrangements with a swing cadences touching on freer currents. Replete with informative booklet notes about time signatures, soloists and forms it could probably demonstrate proper creative methods to committed students.

But like air-brushed and photo-shopped pictures of high fashion models, the immaculate results lack a basic humanness. The effect is like scrutinizing the angles and contrasts implicit in high-quality photos of manual workers sweating under the hot sun. Symmetry is there, but none of the exertion that goes into the task. Overall there’s no faulting the solos, which range from the delicate Miles Davis-inflected mute work of trumpeter Wallace Roney to shouting sharpness from saxophonists Jimmy Greene and Kris Allen, plus some pallid Eric Dolphy-lite inserts from bass clarinetist Bruce Williamson. But even when a groove is reached, it’s the aural equivalent of spending a day watching a pristine lake with no ripples on the water.

Some of Jaffe’s melodies have a certain familiarity about them, so that they echo other better-known compositions or compositional sequences. But he’s skilful enough for instance add lively Latinisms to his pianism on “Fear of the Dark” to reflect its cadence. On the other hand whether as the notes suggest, this minor Blues appropriately reflects discrimination against Hispanic immigrants is another matter. Even an interpolation of Horace Silver-like soul into “Fleurette Chinoise” based on a recorded Duke Ellington piano pattern and beefed up with riffing horns seems perfunctory, despite mellow French horn and trumpet solos.

Like a dress designer who revives older patterns with new refinements, “Steve Biko” and “Theme for the New Sixties”, both originally composed by Jaffe for and performed by Max Roach's Double Quart in 1980 seem the only enduring material here. Although tinged with soundtrack-like blandness, the former builds up from a powerful double bass line to take advantage of the contrast between John Clark’s slippery French horn flutters and russet-tinged bass clarinet licks. It even has room for some this-side-of-free playing from Allen. More elaborate, the second composition involved many more of the musicians in arrangements that vacillate from are near-silky and near-symphonic. Jaffe’s playing too is at its strongest here. But like a lounge pianist afraid of offending his audience, he never cuts loose enough to stretch the keyboard boundaries to rawness.

Arc is the equivalent of a how-to volume that demonstrates how Jazz can swing with a foot-tapping groove and mellow solos. For professionals who want to be able to effortlessly sound good without a timbre out-of-place it would probably rate an A. Searchers for humanity and commitment may have to go elsewhere.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Arc* 2. Brainworm 3. Steve Biko* 4. In Case this is Goodbye 5. Fear of the Dark (miedo a la obscuridad) 6. Fleurette Chinoise 7. Go Down Moses 8. Theme for the New Sixties* 9. Now Then

Personnel: Wallace Roney (trumpet); John Clark (French horn); Bruce Williamson (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone) Kris Allen (alto saxophone); Jimmy Greene (tenor and soprano saxophones); Tom Olin (tenor, soprano, baritone saxophones); Wei- Jun Huang*. Wei-Hsin Liu* (violin); Chiee Yeh* (viola); Andy Jaffe (piano); Jiro Yeh* (cello); Marty Jaffe (bass); Jonathan Barber (drums)