Nate Wooley: trumpet; Terry L. Green: trombone; Brad Jones: bass; Ches Smith: drums; Elliott Sharp: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
In the days of yore there were mythical heavyweights such as Tony “Two Ton” Galento, a veritable human barrel able to knock the great Joe Louis down (before getting knocked out himself) through sheer massiveness and rude bravery, without an ounce of technical prowess to help him. Similar stories are not happening anymore in boxing, and remain the stuff of legends. Galento’s untidy approach is in a way comparable to certain primeval expressions of free jazz in terms of savage vehemence (although, contrarily to the old scrapper, technique has more often than not been a critical component in the emancipations from artistic conventions). The same detonative energies better exercised, in recent years, by monsters named George Foreman and Mike Tyson – both fighters representing awesome mixtures of skill and power-enhanced athleticism – equal the compelling compactness shown by Quintet. The music is characterized by a sense of itching fists typical of a readiness to rumble; yet those impulsive reactions are frequently turned into innovative types of counterpoint, still with the capacity of blasting a listener’s socks off with impeccable combinations. Add to an already significant package the ability of letting things go awry at any given moment, accelerations culminating in blowouts where every line is nonetheless intelligible to its organic kernel (check the alternance between fierce anarchy and quasi-laminal layering in “Historical Friction”).
What’s rightfully sensational in this collection of synapse-refreshing tracks: the bulk of the material was born from a few sketches-cum-spoken instructions. The way the musicians sniff the diverse timbral scents, juxtaposing and/or merging the respective instrumental temperaments with ease, is nothing short of amazing. The (theoretical) schemes subjacent to the flawlessness of that natural stream are the result of finely tuned ears working in full-throttle mode. Measured turbulence, swing-to-compulsively-fractured meters, hints to some degree of “regular” tunes (“Blues For Butch”), gradual stratifications and – that’s right – aggregations of elements according to scientific principles of which Sharp possesses a proven cognition (“Anabatics”, “Qubits”). Everything is deployed with sinewy rationality (and occasional humor) in the constant search of a new representation of the word “heart”, rarely found amidst the commonplaces of numerous “ultramodern jazz” settings of today. The players – without exceptions – concretize their intuitions masterfully, each voice distinguishable in various spots scattered over the course of the program. However, the lingering feel is always that of a coherent supergroup eating math books, pumping iron, and spitting flames of intelligence.
And since I’m one who makes friends fast (to quote the late Harold Ramis in Stripes), as a conclusion – after my customary journey across the web to gather other views – let me stress a couple of errors, apparently not so important for selected experts (on paper, at least). The first: the homage to Lol Coxhill is not “Cherenkov Light” but “Laugh Out Loud” (quite obviously, one would say – there’s also an explicative parenthesis in the title, just in case the LOL reference had been missed). OK, shit happens. The second is less excusable, for it’s a spreading bad habit: Mr. Sharp’s name – once and for all – is “Elliott”, not “Elliot”. I would detest a systematic spelling of myself as “Masimo”, but evidently many writers simply don’t care about meaningless issues like the accurate denomination of an individual (hell, not even Guitar Player managed to avoid the single “t” in past features on the man). Perhaps they were thinking of the shaven-headed experimental guitarist who used to lead Carbon. But this particular Sharp is a reedist. An outstanding one, for that matter. (*)
(* For the irony-deprived specimens: I’m joking)