The ghost of John Coltrane hovers over Brightly Dark. At times, Tim Armacost sounds startlingly like the late saxophonist, especially when he plays soprano, as he does on 'Afro Pentameter' and on the title track. Armacost is an extremely talented musician and an excellent composer, but he is still somewhat lacking in originality. Not that anyone can blame him for choosing to emulate Coltrane. In a scene from Woody Allen's Manhattan, Allen is told by an angry friend that he 'thinks [he's] God.' Allen's reply: 'Well, I have to have a role model. Who am I supposed to use, my rabbi?'
All quibbling aside, Brightly Dark finds Armacost in excellent company. His quartet consists of veterans Ray Drummond and Billy Hart on bass and drums respectively, and relative youngster Bruce Barth on piano. While Armacost's clear emulation of Coltrane raises some obvious comparisons between this group and the master's classic quartet, I'm pleased to say that this group does not suffer from it. Barth, in particular, stands out as a wonderful accompanist and soloist. His playing is a delight, displaying at once lyricism and virility. Hart, a drummer who enlivens any setting, is in fine form throughout. And bassist Ray Drummond ' who previously worked with Hart while playing behind Stan Getz ' performs at his usual high level of professionalism.
Armacost is in good form as well, of course. While his tone and attack may seem derivative, Armacost's solos are intense and display considerable intelligence and creativity. His work on soprano saxophone ' an instrument it is virtually impossible to play without invoking John Coltrane ' is impressive. The tenor is also used to great effect, particularly on the lovely original, 'And Then There Were Four.' The group is equally impressive on standards such as 'May I Come In' and 'Old Devil Moon.'
Brightly Dark, which has been released on the Spanish Satchmo Jazz imprint, is yet another example of the outstanding music that is being produced on small, in this case foreign, labels. Many of the biggest names in jazz, including Blue Note and Verve, started as independents and have since been consumed by huge media conglomerations. While good music is being produced by the majors, it is the smaller labels that hold the future of jazz.
With media giants like Sony and Universal worrying about copyright laws and file sharing, gouging consumers at the cash register and churning out inferior pop confection, some of the best talent is going unsigned and unnoticed. Bravo to Satchmo Jazz for bringing Tim Armacost to listeners, giving us further proof that good modern jazz is alive and well.
Personnel: Tim Armacost, tenor and soprano saxophones; Bruce Barth, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Billy Hart,