Cheek/Iverson/Street/Rossy: Lazy Afternoon/Guilty (2002)
Preconceived ideas about musical lineups (and just about everything), often lead to disappointment. Maybe it’s just the times we live in, or our subconscious reliance on marketing. Reading the lineups of these two live sessions, I was fully expecting deconstructed renditions of jazz classics. The results, although unforeseen, were ultimately satisfying.
The youthful musicians assembled all have post-Wynton AND post-Downtown pedigrees. Saxophonist Chris Cheek took over Joe Lovano’s place in Paul Motian’s band as the drummer moved into his electric bebop era. Cheek’s last recording Vine (Fresh Sound 2000) and his work in Seamus Blake’s Bloomdaddies is certainly a prevision of music to come.
Pianist Ethan Iverson, together with his band The Bad Plus mines the popular (and sometime unpopular) music of his generation for inspiration. He has recently taken on the dreaded music of Blue Oyster Cult, Abba, Debbie Harry, and Nirvana as fodder for his Monk meets Satie piano trio. His recordings for Fresh Sound, Deconstruction Zone and especially The Bad Plus are well-founded attempts to make jazz resonate with popular music listeners under 40 years of age. It only makes sense that a reference to “Smells Like Team Spirit” to a 30-something goes over better than “Surrey With A Fringe On Top.”
Rounding out the band are bassist Ben Street (Orange Than Blue, Sephardic Tinge, and Kurt Rosenwinkle) and drummer Jorge Rossy, who together with Brad Mehldau are playing the music of Radiohead by-way-of Bill Evans.
Both recorded in March of 2000 in Barcelona, Lazy Afternoon immediately reminds one of John Coltrane’s Ballads record. In the midst of all the musical turmoil this quartet, like Trane, lets you know a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Their reverent take on classic music from Rodgers and Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, and Bill Evans is reassuring. The kids are all right, at least with dad. Cheek’s tenor work is whisperingly nostalgic and Iverson accents with time honored touches. The continually ending take on “Midnight Sun” has Iverson providing flourishes under Cheek’s ceremonial horn. The quartet mostly sticks to ballads and slow tempos for this lazy afternoon. They do opt for a cool swing on “Walkin Up” with Rossy handling the brushes and Street upping the tempo. The mostly insider recording ends with Cheek sitting out on “These Foolish Things.” The trio makes the most sentimental minimalist statement of the day with Iverson’s right hand applying all the syrup.
Guilty, recorded at the same performance, tears a bit free of convention. The quartet sticks to standards, but stretches them out, up to 17-minutes. The luxury of this space allows for more personality to be exposed. Iverson’s one-handed treasures are fully evident and displayed on George Shearing’s “Conception.” He takes on Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” with unfortunately too much deference to history. As a familiar listener anticipates Iverson’s wit, we get too much melancholy. Then again doing to Monk what he does to Kurt Cobain might be blasphemy.
While these standards are not the music of their time, the musicians begin each tune faithfully, sometimes as on “I Remember You” finessing the time signatures to redirect attention to the music. While remaining deferential to the compositions, the musicians allow a bit more insight into their personalities here.
Track Listing: Guilty: All Or Nothing At All; I’ll Remember You; ‘Round Midnight; I’ll Remember April; Guilty; Conception; Autumn Leaves. Lazy Afternoon: Lazy Afternoon; Lover; Stardust; Tea For Two; Midnight Sun; Walkin Up; These Foolish Things.
Personnel: Chris Cheek – Tenor Saxophone; Ethan Iverson – Piano; Ben Street – Bass; Jorge Rossy – Drums.