MP3 Bruce Saunders - Fragment
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10 MP3 Songs in this album (52:52) !
Related styles: Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz, World: Afro-Brazilian, Instrumental
People who are interested in Jim Hall John Scofield Kurt Rosenwinkel should consider this download.
There was a moment several years back during a Blindfold Test with guitarist John Abercrombie where I mischievously slipped in a New Agey disc, just to tweak his acerbic wit. Abercrombie went off on an incisive rant about the lameness of âmusic on the white keys onlyâ and then proceeded to extoll the virtues of what really grabbed him. âIâve always been attracted to music that has a darker edge to it, something not so obvious but instead has a sense of mystery to it.â
Abercrombie would no doubt dig this music by guitarist-composer Bruce Saunders and his quartet of Adam Kolker on reeds, John Hebert on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. Saundersâ playing is imbued with dark hues and opaque tones and underscored by a pensive but probing nature while his compositions reveal themselves gradually in layers of intrigue and allure. The forms are thoughtfully plotted out with a keen sense of harmonic logic and melodic development but Saunders will frequently, provocatively, leave gaping holes in his compositions for his comrades to react while in freefall. And these cats -- high-level improvisers all -- always land on their feet.
âIâve known these guys for a long time and played with them in many different situations,â says Saunders of his seasoned New York sidemen, âso we really didnât need to rehearse that much for this session. I guess over a period of a year and a half we had only three rehearsals. And when I wrote the material I was really thinking of them, the way they interpret a chart, particularly when things get pretty open. So the recording session unfolded very naturally.â
A prime example of that organic approach can be heard on the startling title track, where in the middle section the bottom drops out and the collective intuitive powers of the group take over. Drummer Takeishi, an extraordinarily sensitive colorist who has a wealth of varied playing experience with the likes of Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias, Afro-Cuban percussion master Ray Barretto, Ornette Colemanâs Prime Time guitarist Ken Wessel and Columbian saxophonist/composer Antonio Arnedo, is particularly adept in these freewheeling situations where his imagination and instincts always elevate the proceedings. New Orleans-born bassist Hebert has, since moving to New York in 1992, become in-demand for live performance and studio sessions, appearing over the years with pianist Andrew Hill, saxophonists Greg Osby and Rick Margitza, Kenny Wheeler, drummers Brian Blade and Matt Wilson, the Maria Schneider Orchestra while also recording two projects with the Friedrich-Hebert-Moreno collective and one fascinating take on the music of Bela Bartok in Change of Time with partners Russ Lossing on piano and Adam Kolker on reeds. Hebertâs approach to the bass shows a healthy respect for the bottom end while his zen-like use of space adds to the intrigue of such hauntingly beautiful compositions as âJustâ and âChronic.â The immensely talented Kolker has worked with the Village Vanguard Orchestra, Bobby Previteâs The Horse, Bruce Barth, Dominique Eade, David Berkman, Gunther Schuller, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and the Kenny Wheeler Large Ensemble.
The leader of this session is a Florida native who moved to New York in 1988 and two years later appeared on pianist Michael Cainâs 1990 debut as a leader, Strange Omen (Candid). Over the years he has appeared with Cain, drummer Bobby Previte, singer Lucia Pulida, Dave Pietro, Sam Newsome, Antonio Arnedo, Lindsay Horner and many others. Bruceâs own debut as a leader came in 1996 with Forget Everything (Moo Records), which featured Cain, drumming great Jack DeJohnette and bassist Tony Scherr. That same year saw the release of the brilliant but overlooked guitar summit Raising The Standardâ(Moo Records) in which Saunders played alongside kindred spirits and fellow guitar Talents Deserving Of Wider Recognition, Steve Cardenás and Ben Monder. In 1988, Bruce appeared on saxophonist Pietroâs Wind Danceâ(A Records) and a year later followed up his own debut with Likely Storyâ(Moo Records), featuring drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Dave Carpenter, saxophonist Pietro and pianist Otmar Ruiz.
Which brings us to Fragment. Saundersâ impressive third outing as a leader is buoyed by a swinging, highly interactive rhythm section and fueled by a collective spirit of discovery. From a purely guitaristic perspective, this recording is notable for the sheer six-string virtuosity that Saunders exhibits from track to track. But whatâs more remarkable -- aside from Bruceâs seamlessly flowing lines and unclichéd choice of notes -- is the chemistry of the band as they navigate their way through his rather involved compositions. Hebert and Takeishi have a positively magical hookup, whether they are throwing down a bubbling second line groove beneath âJoe,â setting the fragile less-is-more tone with deft brushwork and dramatic use of space on âJust,â negotiating the myriad changes on the crackling âLike You Said,â reacting purely in the moment on the title track or laying back with uncommon finesse and restraint on the luxurious ballad âChronic,â which creeps along at a molasses-slow pace.â
The opener, âFair Warning,â is a piece that masterfully balances odd meters and harmonic complexity while retaining the illusion of relative openness. âItâs a little more involved harmonically but I wanted it to seem open,â says the composer. The challenge here was to have the odd-meter but try to open it up and not be so rhythmically strict with it. Ideally, we want to make it sound really easy and open but actually thereâs some difficult things to deal with here.â
The exquisitely dark âJustâ is one that Saunders originally conceived for quartet with piano. âThere are two contrary lines and originally I had the piano playing the bottom line and the guitar playing the top line,â he explains, âbut ultimately it seemed to work better with me playing both lines simultaneously.â No overdubs here, just a remarkable example of contrapuntal guitar.
The Weather Reportish âJoeâ is, of course, a reference to Joe Zawinul. âThe tune was orginally written to use in the group Bluth (Pete Davenport, Tim LeFebvre and Zack Danziger) but it didnât really work thereâ says Saunders. âAgain, I had some changes written out for the soloists but we ended up deciding that it worked best just keeping it open, so we just played over the vamp.â
The acoustic guitar feature âLike You Saidâ is marked by a labyrinth of intricate, harmonically active turns, somewhat reminiscent of Egberto Gismontiâs writing. But actually, Saundersâ inspiration came from another source. âI had been listening to David Berkmanâs third cd, Leaving Home. I really loved the piece âTangoed Webâ and I was trying to write something in the same spirit. Kolker displays impeccable technique on bass clarinet here in doubling Saundersâ mercurial line before taking an inspired solo on the technically demanding instrument.
âFragmentâ builds from the opening Ornette-ish theme and leads into a free section where, literally, the bottom drops out from under the musicians. âWe just decided not to play on the changes I had written and keep it open rhythmically as well as harmonically,â says Saunders.
âOpener,â another showcase for some open-ended playing by the quartet, is elevated by Takeishiâs swinging, interactive pulse and anchored by Hebertâs deep-toned mantra on the bottom end. Saunders and Kolker again come out bristling with tight unison lines on the head before the piece opens up to successive sparkling solo excursions by Bruce, Adam and John. âThe original melodic statement is from Joe Hendersonâs solo on the McCoy Tyner composition âPassion Dance,ââ says the composer. âThe harmonic directionis an asymmetrical thing that we stick with through the solo section.â
Saundersâ âBlues Or Not,â one of three trio offerings, was inspired from checking out the three-tonic system that Coltrane employed on energized anthems like âGiant Steps,â â26-2â and âSatellite.â As Bruce explains, âThis piece is written with those kind of changes but I was trying not to spell them out during the solo.â Also note how Takeishi funks up the proceedings by subtly weaving a taste of second line groove into the mix.
On âChronic,â patience becomes a virtue. Says Saunders of that delicate, slow-moving ballad, âAgain, we tried not to have a head-solo-head kind of situation but keep it more interactive, even at the very slow tempo.â
The very obtuse âLogic,â the albumâs other trio offering, was inspired by one of Bruceâs guitar playing colleagues. âI was listening to Ben Monderâs âExcavationââand really admiring the way he writes and plays in a very angular, beautiful way. I tried to write something in that vein -- odd-metered and over the bar line.â âThe collection closes with a precious gem -- an unhurried and gorgeous rendition of Thelonious Monkâs âLight Blue.â Satoshiâs rubato mallet work here is delicate and thoughtful while Saunders enhances the delicate vibe with well-placed volume pedal swells behind Kolkerâs keening soprano line. Dark and mysterious indeed.
Next time I do a Blindfold Test with John Abercrombie, Iâm going to slip this disc into the mix, sit back and watch him smile. -- Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a contributor to Jazz Times and Jazziz magazines. He is also the author of âJACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastoriusâ (Backbeat Books)
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