August 17, 2020
See Through 4
False Ghosts, Minor Fears
All Set! Editions AS 0012
Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi
NotTwo MW 995-2
Well along in her career, Toronto-based pianist Marilyn Lerner is not only accepted for her mature creativity on the Canadian scene, but is radiating her skills in international situations with partners including Ig Henneman. These two ingenious sessions feature the pianist in alternate settings. Intention is a live concert where she and her American cohorts, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi roll out six extended improvisations. In contrast False Ghosts, Minor Fears is an all-Canadian effort with Lerner as part of a quartet playing seven tunes composed by bassist Pete Johnston. Karen Ng who plays in bands with Rob Clutton is the alto saxophonist and Nick Fraser who has recorded with Tony Malaby and plays in a trio with Lerner is the drummer.
Drummer Grassi and bassist Filiano hardly need introductions since they singly and together have played with everyone from Burton Greene and Steve Swell to Roy Campbell and Adam Lane. The partnership with Lerner was forged more than a dozen years ago and each musician’s output fits as snugly together as jigsaw puzzle parts. Probably the most expressive instance of this interaction is “Eric’s House”. Steadied by Filiano’s unaccompanied string glides from high-pitched vibrations to the lower-pitched resonations, a swift interjection by the pianist unleashes bouncy swing where passing chords destabilize the theme then smooth it down as Grassi’s ruffs and paradiddles create a parallel dialogue. Sympathetic keyboard comping join the bassist’s col legno slaps to create a confident narrative, eventually completed with stronger and speedier key pumps. Just as the others players get sections to brandish their techniques elsewhere, “No Farewell” includes a Grassi showcase which demonstrates profound shading from a bell tree, plus triangle and positioned ratchets in a sophisticated fashion, complemented by low-pitched double bass plucks and gentle snowflake dusting of the piano keys.
Those instances during which the pianist’s kinetic exuberance judders from Cecil Taylor-like canniness to Ignacy Paderewski-like splashes are matched throughout by Grassi’s eruptive percussion attacks as well as the bassist’s buzzing power pushes. Yet the three can be equally compatible detouring into gentler territory. From the first and title tune onwards, the concert is marked by dramatic expositions with a steady flow of repeated keyboard splatters from Lerner which on a piece like on the final “Cavern of Mystery”, turn to pumping stentorian kinetics. However that track and other demonstrate that no matter how much stress voicing there is, and how often she jabs at the keyboard, swinging dynamics lurk beneath the surface. In the same way serious smacks and drones from the bassist and drummer keep many of the tunes ruggedly grounded as Lerner plays at supersonic speeds, although dancing asides exist simultaneously.
From abject atonality to responsive fluidity from Lerner marks the journey from Intention to False Ghosts, Minor Fears where Johnston’s compositions have a pronounced 1950 Cool Jazz feel. When the sleekly harmonized tunes unfold, the feel of Jimmy Giuffre and Shorty Rodgers time and space experiments are suggested as well as the tightness of Dave Brubeck’s quartets. Ng’s buoyant reed puffs on tracks like “Battling in Extra Ends” and “Not a Half Stepper” even suggest the understated blowing of Ur-Cool altoists like Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz. On the latter trilling reed vibrations slow down alongside Baroque-like comping from the pianist. The former includes rococo keyboard decorations, but allows for a fantasia-like investigation of the theme by the saxophonist as keyboard shading turns the exposition more ominous.
At the same time the compositions deal with innovation not imitation. This isn’t a West Coast Jazz revival band. To that end while some tunes like the concluding “An Ocean to Forget" may have hummable sections, emphasis is on the undulating narrative that’s propelled with a harder interface by the saxophonist. Before the tandem back-and-forth finale jointly propelled by saxophone and piano, there’s room for descriptive rolls and ruffs from Fraser and, at the top, a showy waterfall of notes from Lerner. In the same way “Uncertain Slant of Light” may seem simple, but as it’s outlined by Johnston’s bass strings and Fraser’s restrained but powerful drum beat. Additionally Ng’s bright reed honks and harder keyboard clips confirm the tune’s seriousness.
Co-leader or sideperson, Lerner’s cool and capability thrive in many situations, as these session aptly demonstrate
Track Listing: Intention: 1. Intention 2. Metamorphosis 3. Plink Plunk 4. Eric’s House 5. No Farewell 6. Cavern of Mystery
Personnel: Intention: Marilyn Lerner (piano); Ken Filiano (bass and EFX) and Lou Grassi (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: False: 1. Another word for Science 2. Battling in Extra Ends 3. With Scars to Show 4. The Sidewalks are Watching 5. Uncertain Slant of Light 6. Not a Half Stepper 7. An Ocean to Forget
Personnel: False: Karen Ng (alto saxophone); Marilyn Lerner (piano); Pete Johnston (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums)