During the more than two years I was mostly closeted writing Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, CDs kept materializing in my mailbox. There wasn’t much I could do about them but write an occasional review. When I emerged from isolation, I sampled many and paid close attention to a few. In the next few days, I’ll share with you my imprssions of some of them.
Now that any eighteen-year-old tenor player is likely to be a record company, the CDs come pouring in. Some weeks, self-produced albums by fledgling musicians outnumber those by players with track records (so to speak). More often than not, these maiden voyages are launched on waves of compositions by the leader, but I have encountered no new jazz composer with Herbie Hancock’s ability to sustain an album of original material. When I see on the back of an album a list of tunes written by someone six months out of Berklee, my inclination is to consign the CD to the box reserved for things I may get around to some day. I’m with Alan Broadbent, who spoke years ago about the importance to performer and listener alike of improvisation based on recognizable music.
“There’s a joy, an intellectual bliss that derives from being able to discern the form of something and to hear how somebody is playing on it,” Alan told me years ago when I was preparing the notes for his Pacific Standard Time. “A lot of listeners who know a tune sense its form and feel that they’re a part of it. They can feel the tension. They can hear how the tune is being reharmonized. That’s part of the joy of the art of it, for listeners to be able to use their minds, so it’s not just mood music.”
Still, once in a while something intrigues me into hearing a collection of originals by a young musician. In the case of Alex Heitlinger’s Green Light, the hook was the presence in Heitlinger’s sextet of the remarkable trumpeter Greg Gisbert. Heitlinger is a 24-year-old Colorado trombonist who played in symphony orchestras in the Rocky Mountain region and around the Southwest. He recently moved to Jersey City to be close to the New York scene. His jazz playing has elements of whimsy that remind me of Bill Harris and Roswell Rudd. His flights of fancy extend into his writing on “Crazy Jake,” which sounds like George Russell visiting a 1920s Berlin cabaret, and “Pondering,” with a melody perfectly suited to the title. “Missing You” is a waltz with a bittersweet cast and nicely harmonized horn parts behind Art Lande’s piano solo. “The Foot,” whose line is more a series of impressions than a melody, opens up space around a vamp for the horns to sputter and splatter at will, which they do entertainingly and not to excess. Lande, Heitlinger, saxophonist Peter Sommer and Gisbert solo lustily, with bassist Dwight Kilian and drummer Jill Fredericksen strong in support. This one was a pleasant surprise.
More tomorrow on recent (well, relatively recent) CDs.