Rafal Sarnecki, Climbing Trees (Outside In Music)
A native of Warsaw, guitarist Sarnecki moved to New York City in 2005. An adventurous—even daring—composer, he heads a sextet whose members have similar inclinations. His ten compositions here range from the agitated pointillism and serene contemplation of “Homo Sapiens” to a three-part suite, “Little Dolphin,” that includes an intense Lucas Pino tenor saxophone solo and an ethereal vocal part performed by Sarnecki’s fellow Pole Bogna Kicinska. Ms Kicinska is an attractive presence throughout the album, frequently in complex unison passages with guitar or piano. Pianist Glenn Zalenski shines in those demanding duets and in several solos. Sarnecki’s guitar-piano exchanges with Zalenski in the opening “Solar Eclipse” and Colin Stranahan’s drumming over a relentless vamp in the closing “Homo Sapiens” are typical of the attention-getting power of this band. Their depth may come as a revelation to those hearing it for the first time.
Mikkel Ploug/Mark Turner, Faroe (Sunnyside)
Mikkel Ploug’s command of the guitar has brought him acclaim in his native Denmark and, increasingly, throughout Europe and the United States. In Faroe, Ploug partners with the American tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, whose associations have included Charlie Haden, James Moody, the San Francisco Jazz Collective and Tom Harrell. The pair’s duets on thirteen of Ploug’s compositions have the solemnity and joy of discovery that the two have established in well more than a decade of making music together. The piece called “The Red Album” is a prime example of their interaction, which everywhere In this collaboration is as subtle as it is profound.
During his developmental years, Turner paid close attention to the harmonic and tonal qualities of Warne Marsh and equally to the conceptual changes that John Coltrane brought to the tenor saxophone and to all of modern jazz. The piece Ploug calls “Wagner” has much of the German composer’s operatic lyricism but none of his fiery bluster. Ploug’s “Como” draws from the bossa nova tradition without sounding like any other bossa nova tune. In fact, originality is apparent in every aspect of Ploug’s and Turner’s partnership in Faroe, including the ascending steps of “Steps,” a descriptive title if ever there was one. The album ends with a piece that has the effect of a drift across placid waters. Its title is, “Sea Minor.” Guess what key it’s in.
Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson, Temporary Kings (ECM)
Turner’s second recent collaboration brings him together with pianist Ethan Iverson, until recently the leader of The Bad Plus, that audacious, iconoclastic trio. Turner and Iverson go hand in hand, as it were, through six of Iverson’s compositions, two of Turner’s and one by Warne Marsh, who continues as an influence three decades after his death. Something of Marsh’s weightless tone and the harmonic audacity he inherited from Lennie Tristano live on in Turner’s work. As in Turner’s album with Ploug, there is nothing about Turner or Iverson here to suggest pressure, a studio deadline or anything but the pleasure they get in making music together. The relaxed Iverson blues “Unclaimed Freight” is one example. But, then, so is Turner’s devilish “Myron’s World,” a labyrinth of harmonic changes in which they sound as relaxed as in Marsh’s bebop classic with its familiar “All The Things You Are” harmonies. It’s wonderful to hear this ideal partnership still in full swing.
Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson, Deuce (Origin)
Three thousand miles across the US, saxophonist and flutist Hans Teuber and bassist Jeff Johnson have been partners for as long Turner and Iverson have collaborated in New York. Teuber has been on all of Johnson’s albums for their hometown Seattle label, Origin. This time, though, there’s a difference; it’s just the two of them. Their piece “Let’s Pretend,” composed—that is, improvised—in performance demonstrates how a “rhythm” instrument and a “melody” instrument can each be both, and how if their players think alike, the melding of minds makes music that washes over the listener. Those who may think of free jazz as space music or music of aggression will hear master players each committed to what the other conceives and helping him achieve it. Not to suggest that this Teuber-Johnson venture lacks substance. Hearing them in the album’s three standard songs will give the close listener luxuriant helpings of familiar harmonies thoroughly explored in “What’s New?” “How Deep Is The Ocean” and “You’ve Changed, and in Jimmy Reed’s 1961 pop blues hit “Bright Lights, Big City.” Teuber’s and Johnson’s “Hopi Dream” features the deep tones of Teuber’s alto flute and a Johnson solo that somehow evokes the mystery of those people of the Southwest just by the mention of their name in the title. The album is a lovely experience. I should have called it to your attention sooner.