The jazz world has more than a few parallels to the world of sports, but unfortunately isn't given the same level of coverage and scrutiny. The rise of the formerly- regarded "team player" to sudden "all-star" status based on a reshuffling of the supporting cast is common to both worlds. Chris Lightcap now affirms his talents deserve wider recognition with this slam dunk followup to his debut, Lay-up. Blurring distinctions between the what-is-free and the what-is-harmony-based informs the playing of the entire cast here, and this collective probing and splaying of the inside/outside is what makes Bigmouth such a success.
Saxophiles unfamiliar with Tony Malaby and Bill McHenry are missing out on two major young talents. Only now getting deserved acknowledgement as a "new" star on the instrument, Malaby coalesces lush, warm sound with crystalline technique over the entire range of the horn, from its baritone-lowlands to its altissimo-multiphonic-laced stratosphere. Physically, he's a fireplug-like force that's mastered, down to a zen-like ritual science, the mechanics of making air move. McHenry not only socializes well with Malaby, but takes the more vital and imperative higher road of standing up to him with his own darker, but no less informed, sound.
A great measure of helmsmanship falls on the shoulders of Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver, who display a cohesion and discerning intuition that make them a formidable, ultra-contemporary section. Lightcap's "sound" is defined, more than any other acoustic bassist I've heard, by his well-honed ability to change it up: from cavernous, to velvety/buttery, to vibratingly abrasive, to taut, doghouse-busting pizzicato - sometimes within the context of a single tune.
It's the writing and the bent, loopy, but very cool arranging that will bring new ears to linger at Bigmouth's soapbox. Borne out of giggers' necessity in New York's pianoless second-tier jazz clubs and cafes, the arrangements make the fact that there's no comping instrument and a mini-horn section, using the same damn horn, downright hip. While you'd think that, given the cast and their inside/outside edge, these tunes would have a tendency to break apart into exploratory mayhem (which they occasionally do, as on "Pacifico"), they turn out to be hook-laden, vamp-based gems.
"Neptune" has a funky, looping Latin groove in three that will have you shaking your hips mambo-style with an effective, one-minute head that precedes the tenorists negotiating their solo handoffs. The rhythm section's shift from three-feel to swing at the beginning of McHenry's second solo provides unexpected kick, precisely because it slams up against the previous rhythm. Lightcap's sound morphs from taught intro pizzi to walking boom, as though some post-session reverb had been added in the mix - it wasn't. Dig the way the yeoman bass ostinato is used throughout to set up these infectious grooves.
Don't let the title of the record, Bigmouth, fool you. Lightcap and Co. have bigger ears and an even bigger sound, but most importantly, some very big ideas.
Personnel: Chris Lightcap-bass, Gerald Cleaver-drums, Tony Malaby, Bill McHenry-tenor saxes 4>