Jazz is a big word. And the jazz world is a big world. In an independent study of mine, I am trying to define just how big that world is. But that's the thing. It's boundless. And not only is it boundless, but musicians are constantly exploring new frontiers, trying things that haven't been tried before. Maybe that's why I love jazz, because I hope that some day I can possess the mindset to do something completely new.
Marty Ehrlich is one of those innovators. For News on the Rail, Ehrlich (alto sax and clarinet) decided on an interesting ensemble: James Zollar (trumpet, flugelhorn), Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax, bass clarinet), James Weidman (piano, melodica), Greg Cohen (bass), and Allison Miller (drums). While it's obviously slightly out of the ordinary for a jazz ensemble, the band is highly flexible. And Ehrlich takes advantage of its flexibility to the fullest extent to realize a remarkable compositional achievement. At different times, the band can sound like a straight-ahead bop group, a big band, or a classical ensemble. And it is compelling throughout.
Ehrlich's unique alto sound dominates many of the tunes on this record. "Enough Enough starts the album on a fiery note, with Zollar's trumpet blaring a warning around the theme. Ehrlich's sax soon takes over, beginning in a relatively calm manner, but soon progressing to shouts as his trademark slight overblowing kicks in. Throughout, Cohen's tone and choice of notes are similar to Scott Colley's. The tune ends with a percussive flurry from Miller, whose sheer energy perks up the proceedings.
"Hear You Say is straight funk, with Johnson's tuba adding a malleable feeling to what is usually a fairly muscular bass line. Zollar adds a sleazy New Orleans feel before soloing along with Weidman, this time on melodica. Miller's fairly static drumming gives the other players a foundation on which to improvise.
The band then shifts gears to play "Light In The Morning (Many Thousand Gone), a very classically influenced composition. Chris Potter's little-known "Jazzpar Suite comes to mind. Weidman's effortless but rhythmically melodic solo leads into Weidman's beautiful chorded statement. This is the quietest moment on the record.
"Erica is a big band tune from the start, and the group adapts admirably. The big band morphs into a quintet for the solos. Ehrlich also has a unique sound on clarinet, and his solo swings masterfully. Once again, Cohen's solo seems effortless, but it fits perfectly into the form of the tune.
Overall, Ehrlich has created a unique record. His personal tone, his choice of ensembles, and his remarkable compositions are a joy to listen to. There will be something for everyone on this record. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: Enough Enough; Hear You Say; Light in the Morning (Many Thousand Gone); News on the
Rail; Dance No. 2; Erica; Seeker's Delight; Keeper of the Flame (In Memory of Sam Furnace).
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet;
James Zollar: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet;
James Weidman: piano, melodica;
Greg Cohen: bass;
Allison Miller: drums.