Alex Heitlinger Sextet: Green Light (2004)
One look at the biographical information about the musicians accompanying trombonist Alex Heitlinger on his début release on Synergy Music reveals that, with one exception, the common denominator is pianist Art Lande, whose sharp and imaginative playing graces Green Light. '04 is, in fact, a particularly good year for fans of Lande, who also appears on woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless' Shapeshifter (Synergy, '04) and contributes most of the compositions, as he is one of those near-legendary forces who sees widespread recorded exposure all too rarely.
But back to Heitlinger, a player still in his early twenties, yet possessing a mature compositional voice that belies his young age. With a foot firmly planted in modern post bop, Heitlinger's writing for this sextet demonstrates a keen sense of interplay for the front line, as he develops themes that are just as often about intertwining contrapuntal lines as more straightforward harmony. The pieces range from the vivacious title track to the evocative "Dusk," which starts abstractly to paint a picture of early dawn before developing into a swinging modal tune that, along with fine solos from Heitlinger, Lande and bassist Dwight Kilian, demonstrates the strong sense of interplay between Kilian, Lande, and drummer Jill Fredericksen.
"Crazy Jake" is a piece of levity, a challenging stop-start theme constantly interrupting the inherent swing of the tune, with things stopping entirely for Heitlinger's solo, which segues into a kind of keystone cops vibe before finding its way, through an oompah-pah passage, back to the original complicated melody. "Missing You" is a lithe ballad that features saxophonist Peter Sommer's soprano work with lush backing from Heitlinger and trumpeter Greg Gisbert. "The Foot" is a piece of twisted funk that brings to mind some of Robin Eubanks' writing. Eubanks seems, in fact, to be an influence on Heitlinger's playing, although Heitlinger, as accomplished as he is, has yet to develop the kind of distinctive voice and broader technique that will no doubt ultimately evolve and place him in the same league.
Lande, as always, is a joy to experience. Carrying on the tradition of Bill Evans, but with a more cutting edge that also comes from Monk but is beyond imitation of either, he is an artist who has curiously never attained the level of recognition that others have, although clearly equally deserving. With Synergy Music emerging from Denver, Colorado, where Lande lives and teaches, hopefully he'll attain a broader audience through more consistent exposure.
Green Light stands as an engaging album that not only brings Heitlinger to light as a composer and player to watch, but also presents a group of equally fine and under-exposed musicians and, of course, Lande, whose pervasive presence is felt on the session, even when he isn't actually playing.
Track Listing: Green Light; Dusk; Crazy Jake; Missing You; The Foot; Pondering; Euphoria; Magical Interstices/Casco Bay; Roberta's Purple Scarf; Xela - Trombone Warrior
Personnel: Alex Heitlinger (trombone), Greg Gisbert (trumpet, flugelhorn), Peter Sommer (tenor, soprano and alto saxophones), Art Lande (piano), Dwight Kilian (upright and electric bass), Jill Fredericksen (drums)