Mike Fahn: Close Your Eyes... and Listen (2003)
I first heard valve trombonist Mike Fahn some years ago on an album led by the wonderful tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper and was duly impressed. "There’s a player to watch," I said to myself. Great chops, lovely sound, quick reflexes, singular voice. Been watching ever since but apart from occasional appearances as a sideman on others’ albums I’d heard little from Fahn until Close Your Eyes... and Listen arrived in the mail.
Fahn moved (or, more accurately, returned) to NYC in ’93 with his wife, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, and has stayed busy while keeping a relatively low profile, touring with Tom Harrell and Bill Mobley, working with his own groups and teaching in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Jazz for Teens program. Although Fahn released an album called Steppin’ Out back in ’89, he says he considers Close Your Eyes his bona fide debut.
Having closed my eyes... and listened (of course!), I am happy to report that there is much about the album to admire. Fahn is as expressive and nimble as ever, he and tenor Rick Margitza form a compatible front line (on tracks 2, 4, 6, 8), guitarist Steve Cardenas (1, 3, 5–7) is tasteful and melodic, while pianist Charles Blenzig, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Tim Horner furnish ample rhythmic muscle without getting in anyone’s way (I’m especially fond of Horner’s alert and adaptable approach).
What is missing, to these ears, are any songs (except the last one) that produce more than a lukewarm impression. The two by Anderson (the snappy “Will Call,” boppish “On Time”) come closest. The others, McSweeney’s “Without Changes,” Margitza’s “Heart Forest,” Keith Jarrett’s “Survivor’s Suite” and two others co-authored by Fahn and McSweeney (“The Burren,” “Get Sparky”), are nicely written but lack whatever it takes to inscribe them in one’s memory for more than a moment or two.
On the other hand, they do give everyone generous blowing space, and that’s a good thing, as Fahn and his colleagues are first-class improvisers. Blenzig’s synth lends an ethereal quality to “Changes,” while Fahn introduces “The Burren” (inspired by beautiful cliffs he and McSweeney saw while traveling in Ireland) with a lovely a cappella “chorale” produced by overdubbing slide trombones.
Fahn says he conceived the album as a showcase for his range, and in that goal he has succeeded, as he has in establishing “an over-all aura of dark reverie,” underlined especially by “Changes,” “Survivor’s Suite,” “Heart Forest” and “The Burren.” Thoughtful pieces all, and well worth the time it takes to appraise them. An exemplary album for those who don’t need unrelenting fireworks to command their attention.
Contact: Sparky 1 Productions, 817 Greenwood Avenue, #2, Brooklyn, NY 11218. Phone 718-437-7333; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.mikefahn.com. Distributed also by North Country, Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679-9612; phone 315-287-2852; e-mail email@example.com. Web site, www.cadencebuilding.com
Track Listing: Without Changes; Will Call; Survivor
Personnel: Mike Fahn, valve trombone, slide trombone overdub (5); Rick Margitza (2, 4, 6, 8), tenor sax; Steve Cardenas (1, 3, 5-7), guitar; Charles Blenzig, piano (4, 8), synth (1, 3, 6, 7); Jay Anderson, bass; Tim Horner, drums.
Record Label: Sparky 1 Productions