Chris Kelsey Quartet: Renewal (2004)
Sometimes a hiatus is the best answer to impending burnout. Soprano saxophonist Chris Kelsey recognized such signs and decided to shelve his horn in response to the stressors that were closing in. Also a writer, he seems to have hung up his quill for a spell as well. Time away from the rigors of creative improvised music allowed for the sort of perspective and focus that's encapsulated in his new album's single word title.
Kelsey's no neophyte to the CIMP Spirit Room. His debut date was actually the eighth session for a label that now has over twenty-five times that number in its catalog. That debut also drew on the talents of trombonist Steve Swell, featuring the two horns in a duo situation. Swell's back with his old colleague, and the crisp sound the band achieves is testament to their familiarity with the finicky acoustics.
In both technique and compositional preferences Kelsey holds much in common with maestro Steve Lacy. A dry articulation that doesn't shy away from the straight horn's nasal piquancy couples with a preference for dissecting and reassembling melodic material into a plethora of variations. It's probably part of the reason why the tracks take up the ample running times they do. Listening to Kelsey shape a statement, Miles Davis' famous advice to Trane comes to mind: the old adage of ending a solo by simply taking the horn out of from one's mouth. But like Trane, Kelsey's prolix locutions are usually in the service of the music, rather than at odds with it. Also enlivening are the vocal exclamations that occasionally perforate his more emphatic patterns of notes.
"Charlie Parker's Last Will and Testament" unfolds in story-like segments that echo the somber seriousness of its title. Kelsey once again milks nearly every drop he can from a serpentine motif, spewing notes in fast, spiraling patterns. Grillot and Rosen answer and support, accentuating the leader's extemporizations and ensuring that the momentum doesn't diminish. Grillot fills the final minutes with another percolating solo that converges with Rosen's syncopations into an undulating groove.
The momentum splashes over into "Reason Excluded," another twisty-headed tune carried on the rounded hump of Grillot's loping bass walk and Rosen's cantering cymbals. Swell takes first solo crack, slipping and slurring with lubricious precision atop the steady, slouched beat. "Enough/No Tell" centers on a crackling colloquy between Kelsey and Swell, an update on the pared down parameters of their first CIMP meeting. Kelsey's subsequent solo takes some time in coalescing, but Swell's hits a bull's eye from its start in another spate of swerving vocalic phrases.
A tightly twisting head on "E and Me" caps the disc off with a dizzying bang. Swell and Rosen lay out, leaving Kelsey and Grillot to joust expressively. The duo's close-quarters conversation expands into a galloping center section and a circular return to the contortionist's theme. Kelsey may have cashed out his chips previously, but this set gives notice that he's got more than enough creative capital to keep placing future bets.
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Track Listing: A Romp in the Dark; Charlie Parker's Last Will and Testament; Reason Excluded; Enough; No Tell; E and Me
Personnel: Chris Kelsey- soprano saxophone; Steve Swell- trombone; Francois Grillot- bass; Jay Rosen