Recent Listening: Martin, Strickland, Felten

Brand New: In Brief
Joe Martin, Not By Chance (Anzic). Martin is a versatile and rounded bassist who has Martin Not By Chance.jpgcollaborated with a wide range of musicians at the heart of the 30-something generation of jazz players in New York. Here, he enlists two fellow members of that generation’s elite, pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Potter. The drummer, several years younger, is Marcus Gilmore, an accompanist who listens, reacts and adjusts. All of the tunes but Jaco Pastorius’s “The Balloon Song” are Martin’s. The compositions and the performers radiate assurance and peacefulness regardless of tempo or harmonic challenge, yet there’s not a hint of complacency. For all its loveliness, this is music that energizes the listener’s imagination.
E.J.Strickland, In This Day (Strick Musik). Like Marcus Gilmore, drummer Strickland is elastic in his approach to rhythm. In this album of his compositions, he drives the music while accommodating the E.J. Strickland.jpgidiosyncrasies and divergent approaches of his horn players, pianist and bassist. The sidemen are his twin brother Marcus, a resourceful tenor and soprano saxophonist; the increasingly impressive alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw; pianist Luis Perdomo; and bassist Hans Glawischnig. The latter two are regular members of alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon’s band. An assortment of guests is employed on various tracks for atmosphere and a couple of spoken-word episodes that are weak poetry. The quintet provides the primary interest, and it was all Strickland needed except for Pedro Martinez’s congas on the Latin pieces, Tia Fuller’s winsome flute on “Illusions” and a reflective guitar interlude by David Gilmore on “Robin.” The saxophones achieve a lovely blend on “Enternal,” managing to convey with their different pitches alone a sense of harmonization. “New Beginnings” is a particularly effective Strickland composition, with Strickland and Martinez laying down a shifting percussion foundation for eloquent solos by Perdomo and the saxophonists. It is a balanced and thoughtful album.
Oldish: Less Brief
Eric Felten, T-Bop (Soul Note). Conducting research, I came across this first album by the trombonist.T-Bop.jpg Somehow, it got by me when it was released in 1993. Not long out of graduate school when he recorded it, Felten made his debut in the heavy, even intimidating, trombone company of Jimmy Knepper (1927-2003), one of the great unconventional thinkers and players among improvising musicians. On some tracks, the third horn is a tenor saxophone played by Joshua Redman barely known when the album was made in 1992. He was a Harvard friend of Felten. Redman’s own first album Felten.jpg come out the following year. The rhythm section was pianist Jonny King, bassists Paul Henry or Paul LaDuca and drummer Jorge Rossy, emerging Boston-area musicians roughly Felten’s age. King’s boppish work here made me decide to go back and pay closer attention to some of his own recordings. Rossy is noted for his association with pianist Brad Mehldau and as the unofficial house drummer for Fresh Sound Records.
More or less in the J.J. Johnson camp, Felten contrasts with Knepper’s languid trickiness, although at moments he seems inclined to emulate it. With one of the most tromboney of trombonists standing by as he solos, if Felten is a tad nervous, well, who wouldn’t be? In any case, they sound as if they’re having the time of their lives. The joyKnepper.jpg of their counterpoint in the last chorus of “T-Bop” is infectious. Over the intervening 17 years, Redman’s work has taken on sophistication and complexity. Here, he wears simplicity and directness on his sleeve. His earnestness is refreshing. All of the pieces but “Stella By Starlight” and “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” are by Felten the developing composer. “On Second Thought” is an amusingly fractured line on “I Got Rhythm” changes, “Hold Back the Dawn” a brooding ballad worthy of a good lyric. “Deconstruction” is a minor exercise with Latin tendencies that encourages the musicians, particularly Redman, to take their solos to the border of free playing. “Ontology” is a questioning blues line appropriate to its title. There is no question about “Blues for Lester Dubree;” it’s down-home and funky and kicks off with a Louis Armstrong quote. “Delphi” would have been at home in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers book.
Felten has gone on to refine his trombone playing, lead a big band in Washington, DC, develop as a singer, publish a book and write a general-interest column in The Wall Street Journal. His second CD included Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer. His tribute to Mel Tormé and Marty Paich featured a who’s-who of west coast jazz stars, among them Herb Geller and Jack Sheldon. T-Bop is evidently rare as a physical object but available as an MP3 download. If you missed it the first time around, as I did, you may want to investigate it.

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