Multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich can always be counted on to make thoughtful, provocative music on the modern-creative end of the jazz spectrum. His last album (The Long View
, 2003) featured an extended large-group composition inspired by the work of painter Oliver Jackson. News On The Rail
is a somewhat less abstract effort comprising eight new tunes written for what he calls a "large small ensembleactually a sextet.
An avant gardist with an appreciation for melody, Ehrlich has long been associated with innovative artists like Julius Hemphill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Roscoe Mitchell. His compositions here intermingle free jazz ("Light in the Morning (Many Thousand Gone) ), avant funk ("Hear You Say ), and more straight-ahead post bop ("Seeker's Delight ). The title tune, with its sinewy, snakelike theme, suggests a soundtrack from a twisted '50s detective movie. The album closes on a tender note with "Keeper of the Flame, a tribute to the late saxophonist Sam Furnace.
As a soloist, Ehrlich weaves twisting, intricate lines on alto sax and clarinet that contrast effectively with the hard-driving rhythms laid down by drummer Allison Miller and bassist Greg Cohen. The rest of the band is first-rate too; trumpeter James Zollar, tuba virtuoso Howard Johnson, and pianist James Weidman all turn in stellar performances.
This adventurous yet accessible music should excite fans of the cutting edge without frightening away mainstream listeners.
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich: alto sax, clarinet; James Zollar: trumpet, flugelhorn; Howard Johnson: tuba,
baritone sax, bass clarinet; James Weidman: piano, melodica; Greg Cohen: bass; Allison