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A horde of promising young sax players has emerged in the 1990s, but only a few players have begun to find their voices. Mark Turner is one young saxman whose Muse has kept pace with his talent. The 33-year-old tenor saxophonist leads a band of clever young musicians on this thoughtful release, his second for Warner Brothers.
Turner has developed a unique style inspired by John Coltrane's modal flights and Warne Marsh's unpredictable chordal experiments. This time Turner delivers six originals and three covers, and each track is energized by the incredibly powerful presence of Brad Mehldau on piano.
In This World offers complicated music, a point that's reinforced by Mehdlau's pedantic liner notes. Take the pianist's description of the opening track, entitled "Mesa:" "Opting for mediant relationships instead of dominant-tonic, and casting a mixolydian blur on the dominant seventh chord with the added fourth, he (Turner) conjures a world of half-lights and shadows, filled with achy, suffused longing." Translation: "Mesa" is an ethereal piece that evokes a desert.
Complex as these songs are, there is also something inherently tranquil about them. Unlike the majority of young reed players, Turner is not so intent on dazzling us with technique. He's smart enough to be subtle, and his vision takes in the total ensemble. Most of his solos sound like conversations rather than monologues, and most are played at the high end of the tenor sax register.
Like Coltrane, Turner started out on alto before he switched to tenor. The young saxman has a very warm tone and an almost spiritual feel for his instrument, qualities that have earned him great respect among his peers. It's telling that Joshua Redman played on his debut ( Mark Turner ) released earlier this year, and that the great James Moody teamed with him on the excellent Warner Jams, Volume Two in 1997. Now he's landed Mehldau, the hottest young pianist in jazz.
Perhaps owing to the time the two spent together in the TanaReid band, the rapport between Mehldau and Turner seems almost telepathic. They snake their way through this Trane-like terrain with inspired synergy. Dexterous support is provided by Larry Grenadier on bass and New Orleans native Brian Blade on drums. The latter is an intense musician who contributes ambience as well as rhythms. Drummer Jorge Rossy also plays on two cuts, while inventive guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel appears on three.
Besides "Mesa," highlights among the nine tracks include "You Know I Care," a beautiful ballad written by Duke Pearson; "Days of Wine and Roses," which is given a fast-paced treatment; "The Long Road," a multi-hued piece and one of three cuts that feature Mehldau on electric piano; and "Bo Brussels," a wild free-form improvisation. "Lennie Groove" is derived from Lennie Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies," and it showcases some incredibly complex interplay between Turner and Mehldau and intriguing solos by each. My favorite track is "Barcelona," a Turner original that swings in noble fashion. The title track includes a gorgeous serpentine duet between Turner and Rosenwinkel. A cover of the Beatles' "He Said, She Said" even has a Ringo-like back beat.
Mark Turner stands with James Carter, Joshua Redman and Chris Potter as one of the most talented and focused post-bop saxophonists to emerge in the 1990s. While casual jazz fans might find In This World a difficult listen, anybody who's into Coltrane, Tristano, or Marsh should really dig it.