(Clean Feed)

The specialist skills of the members of this quartet – together with a perceivable enthusiasm in the approach to the music – are relevant elements in this particularly elegant recording, which gathers musicians who – one way or another – have been working jointly for many years (especially pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, whose artistic connection dates back to 1984). Saxophonist Gebhard Ullman performs on soprano and tenor, plus bass clarinet; both he and drummer/percussionist George Schuller are also frequent partners of Stevens. Each of the accomplices contributes with his own compositions, thus applying an iridescent lacquer to the record that is all the more conspicuous given the high standards of the instrumental level. The foursome are able to unchain themselves from straight behaviour when they wish to do so, pushing the boundaries of attitude well ahead of the canons of mainstream; it’s clearly observable, though, that their strongest asset is the ability of cuddling the listener across relatively placid seas, a rigorous pursuit of the graceful and the tasteful the fundamental objective through passages where delicacy and fervour find a point of compromise, leaving a door open to comprehensibility in the most elaborate fragments as well. The single voices shine throughout but, overall, this is a truly collective effort, the only actual deviations from the canon being a moaning-and-panting bass solo by Fonda where he seems to make love to the instrument (“Next Step”) and Schuller’s suggestive hammer whistle call ending the disc in “Desert… Bleue… East”. Fluently communicative and sophisticatedly instinctive, Stevens and Ullmann complete a superb combination, their coolness being the proof that jazz can still reach significant altitudes even when not furiously screaming and flaming from the nostrils.

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