Lucian Ban/Alex Harding Quartet: Premonition (2003)
Fans of the fabulous pianist Lucian Ban and baritone saxman Alex Harding will rejoice that this dynamic duo is back, leading a quintet on Premonition. Joining them on this date are Erik Torrente on alto sax, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Damion Reid. Ban did yeoman work on this disc, writing or co-writing all of the songs, doing the arrangements, and playing some damned fine piano along the way.
The disc opens with "Harmology," an up-tempo tune with a Monk-like structure. Harding's solo turn is typically passionate and inventive, punctuated by his trademark wails on the baritone sax, which vacillate between elephantine and equine shouts. Torrente, playing on his first recording date, weaves a fluent solo seamlessly in Harding's wake, stating his ideas carefully, tentatively at first, letting the rhythm section get out in front of him while he works things out, then catching up to them in an harmonic flurry. Ban plays a brief solo, then Reid and Dahlgren strut their stuff before everyone comes together to restate the theme and take the tune out.
"Serenade for Andrew" finds Torrente leading off with an intricate, more confident solo. Ban follows with an ardent solo, his ideas building in intensity as the bass and drums spur and drive him. Amidst this contemplative setting, Harding comes along and proceeds to politely blow the whole thing away. Dahlgren contributes a nice plucked solo before the tune is taken out. "At Last" is a tender, melancholy ballad on which Harding manages to mute himself - somewhat. Even here, his power will not be denied. Dahlgren plucks another good solo and Torrente plays the blues. The band swings for the fences on the title cut. The tune begins with an eloquent intro, with Ban dancing on the piano, after which the rest of the band falls in for the theme. Harding and Torrente have a brief, potent horn dialogue and once it ends, there's a moment of calm before the rhythm section states its case.
The epic "Mutiny" begins with several seconds of silence, then the sound of Harding breathing into his sax as Ban percolates beneath him, along with Dahlgren's ominous bowed line. The effect is one of disagreement, discord, trouble brewing. The tension builds with Harding becoming more and more strident, growling audibly between notes; Dahlgren protesting on his bass, and Ban's ruminating on the keys signifies that the natives are getting restless. The tension subsides, and Ban plays the chords of the theme, everyone joins in, and the mutiny begins in earnest.
Harding is a robust and eloquent spokesman, but Torrente makes some excellent points as well in his solo, his best on the disc, outlining his ideas with precision and clarity, and just as much passion. Dahlgren brings a sense of calm to the proceedings with a wonderful and dramatic bowed solo, not unlike a voice of reason commenting from a distance. But his voice soon echoes the chaos of the others; the mutiny continues, and the high-pitched, squeaky, edgy notes that follow indicate that the bass has been drawn in. At the end, the mutiny is squelched. The tune that follows, the ballad "Chakra," provides perfect counterpoint to the "Mutiny." It's a haunting ballad that features nice solos by everyone, perfectly measured phrases and harmonies played at just the right pitch.
The disc ends with the frenetic Ornette Coleman-tinged "Collision Theory." The band swings hard, racing to the finish line. Torrente leads off with a deft, rich solo replete with ideas, then runs side by side with Harding for a few measures, with Ban frenetically racing along too. Reid takes his only solo of the session, and he wails away as though he was waiting in the high grass for just this opportunity.
Outside of the excellent performances, what really puts Premonition over the top are the bare bones, the "live" feel of the recording procedures at CIMP. Although this CD was recorded in a studio, it has the sound, feel and energy of a live performance. It's almost like the engineer, Marc Rusch, is a sixth member of the quintet.
Ban and Harding recently played an excellent duo set at Barb's in Brooklyn and a full quintet set at the Cornelia Street Café. If they continue to transfer the energy they found in the studio to a live settingand there's no reason to think they wouldn't beaudiences are in for true magic.
This review originally appeared in All About Jazz-New York.
Track Listing: Harmonolgy; Serenade for Andrew; At Last; Premonition; Mutiny; Chakra; Collision Theory.
Personnel: Chris Dahlgren: bass; Alex Harding: baritone sax, poetry; Lucian Ban: piano; Damion Reid: drums.