Listener's Notes - From the CD Stack: Escreet, Garrison, Ross, Mainieri

Catching up with my listening for the past month, I turn first to a challenging but ultimately rewarding release from British pianist and composer John Escreet, whose Don't Fight The Inevitable (2010 Mythology Records) won't necessarily curl up in your lap and purr the first time you hear it.  But, as the title suggests, after some time spent with the songs and excellent playing on this album, you can't fight having an appreciation of what Escreet is going for.  Although I suspect he'd be quick to deny attempts at categorization, this album falls squarely in the camp of progressive modern jazz, as might be suggested by the one non-Escreet penned tune, "Charlie in the Parker," from Richard Muhal Abrhams -- he of the AACM and a 2010 NEA Jazz Master.  On that track, we hear Parker himself from an interview, announcing, ""Most likely in another 45 maybe 50 years some youngster will come along and take the style and really do something with it."  Audacious on the part of Escreet, to be sure.  With David Binney in the band (and serving as co-producer and co-writer on a couple of songs, Don't Fight the Inevitable has many high points, particularly the title track and Avaricious World, both of which clock in at over ten minutes each.  All in all, a mix of through-composed music, post-bop, and free jazz, Escreet's latest release gives us much to listen to and even more to think about.

     Tenor Matt Garrison makes all the right moves on Familiar Places (2010 D Clef Records), a carefully crafted release from a musician who has written some very strong tunes, assembled a strong group, and made sure that the album's production values are outstanding.  With his core band of Bruce Harris on trumpet, Zaccai Curtis on keyboards, Luques Curtis on bass, and Rodney Green on drums, Garrison sounds great on "Try Another Day," "You'll Know When You See Her," and the title track.  Much is made of Claudio Roditi sitting in on three of the tracks, and he does great work on trumpet and flugelhorn, but it seems at times that those songs belong on some other album.  Garrison has every right to feel confident in his group and in his writing to avoid what appear to be airplay reaches, as he does just fine in those places that are most familiar to him.

The always intriguing folks at Pirouet kindly provided me with Florian Ross' release Mechanism, which I have  listened to a number of times and liked very much, although it seems more a series of solo piano sketches than a full album of tunes.  Of the 17 tracks on this CD, the longest comes in at six minutes, while a couple are slightly over a minute.  Aside from John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" (which came in at 9:10 on Blue Train, but is a paradoxically meditative 3:25 here), and Sergio Mihanovich's "Sometime Ago", all the tunes on Mechanism are from Ross' imagination.  The most memorable and distinctive is the title track, which makes more audacious use of digital looping than many of the other performances.  Impressive in its range of textures and moods, Mechanism works more as a collection of ambient pieces than as an out-and-out album that commands your full sit-up-and-pay-attention.

Lastly, and somewhat frustratingly, I come to a pair of double releases: Mike Mainieri, Crescent (2010 NYC Records) and the  Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet, Trinary Motion (2010 NYC Records). Both of these double CDs arrived within weeks of each other, so there was certainly much music to listen to from Mr. Mainieri and his vibraphone, and instrument I am probably more fond of than many people.  I find it hard to believe that Mainieri was attempting the sort of ambient textures that Florian Ross succeeds with on Mechanism.  Instead, Crescent and to a lesser extent Trinary Motion are both hampered by a simple dilution of content.  There is simply too much material -- three and half hours worth -- on these two releases.  Had Mainieri, who served as his own producer and also is the president of NYC Records, had selected the best hour of material from four CDs worth, I believe he'd have a hit on his hands.

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