Questioning, one must remember, doesn’t necessarily mean that a musical statement isn’t valid or engaging; rather, questioning something is a dynamic engagement with a thing or a concept. I can still find myself interested in and moved by music in the tradition while at the same time inquiring of that music’s function or value. Not coincidentally, the contemporary jazz that I find the most interesting is that which questions (in-) itself and for which expressive and structural boundaries are pushed at, even if only slightly.
Los Angeles’ Posi-Tone is one of the labels keeping close to a vision of modern, straight-ahead jazz that, while not particularly rough around the edges, remains full of surprises and engagement. Among their nearly fifty releases are discs by multi-instrumentalist and improvising composer Sam Rivers, trumpeter-composer Jim Rotondi, trombonist-composer Steve Davis (the New Jazz Composers Octet, etc.) and tenorman-composer Wayne Escoffery, alongside lesser-known or up-and-coming artists and ensembles. Not every title in their deep catalog is a winner, but in the several months that I’ve had to familiarize myself with a selection of their releases, there are a number which stick out.
Minus tenor, the trio settles into an easy lope for “Preachin’,” which despite missing hard-toned fire (and not that Cheek is particularly ‘out,’ but his phrasing and projection are unequivocally weighty), nevertheless sports fine grit and ebullience. Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” has openness to its groove, though one does get the feeling that Ferber’s drums could have an external push to them. His dustily tasteful propulsion/carpet is clearly part of the axis on which chunks of electric grease turn, so a little more recorded presence could balance the proceedings. There’s pregnant ballpark goo to Gold’s tone on “It Is Well,” mostly a vehicle for organ, tenor and barely-there brushes, with Cheek’s cottony minor explosions providing an interesting counter to the leader’s grinding evocations. In all, Out of Line is a solid disc with some fine grease and expansive playing, but could have been better served with a little more realization of its “in the red” qualities.
“Jena 6” is pointillist, full of gradient shifts and subtle turns in its shortish length – like much of the music here, a wide range of colors and shapes are worked into and out of tracks that mostly hover around five minutes. This disc is one of the more adventurous recordings to feature Payton, and he gets a full seven minutes to stretch out around alternately lush and thrashing piano, bass, and percussion on “Hesitation.” Revis’ muscular arco, echoing an interest in players like Henry Grimes, Steve Tintweiss and William Parker, is quite well represented, and his throaty pluck helps to bolster the questing lilt at the heart of “Tough Love,” which compositionally (if not pianistically) recalls Andrew Hill. At times, one might wish that Tarbaby stretched the performances a bit lengthwise and shrunk their reliance on snatches of verbiage intended to shape our appreciation of the music’s aesthetic and social weight. Nevertheless, concision never really hurt expressive actualization.
here). Trigonometry is a quirky small-group date with pianist Gary Versace, drummer Obed Calvaire and bassist Joe Martin, with trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Scott Wendholt guesting on three of the disc’s ten tracks (all are originals save for a cover of Eric Dolphy’s “Miss Ann”). On the latter track, Manricks is supported only by bass and drums, moving from the loquacious theme to a soft burble and gooey cry, with odd flurried warmth to his collected tones. Some of Manricks’ lines seem like those of a classical saxophonist, but their movement is bop-informed, like a weird update to Lee Konitz’ Motion. It’s no surprise that Dolphy would be an important influence – not necessarily because both are altoists, but because Manricks is also interested in broader concepts of organization, and has employed lush orchestral arrangements to his compositions in some intriguing ways. That lushness comes through on the sextet piece “Nucleus,” which if it nods in the direction of Gil Evans, does so in simpler knots, perhaps a little more on the Graham Collier side of things. The leader’s curlicues occupy a wholly immediate world, while chordal backing keeps Manricks’ arrangements hovering in the air. “Mood Swing” is a particularly fine feature for Versace’s darting classicism as a partial framework for the altoist’s lateral sketches, implications of dark grandeur from the composer’s horn. With two fine discs under his belt, as both a composer and improviser Jacám Manricks is a player to watch, questioning the nature of his art while still holding fast to tradition.