Ray Marchica: In the Ring (2005)
Returning from A Different View is guitarist Rodney Jones, an underappreciated straight-ahead guitarist who has worked with artists including Lena Horne, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jimmy McGriff. Fleshing out the quartet are bassist Lonnie Plaxico, who's worked with everyone from Jack DeJohnette to Art Blakey, Cassandra Wilson, and Steve Coleman; and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery, who has seemed on the verge of a major breakthrough more than once, but has never quite made the leap.
Despite their relative youth, these players are remarkably seasoned in a variety of styles, and it shows on In the Ring, which Marchica says is meant to reproduce the live experience, with more room to stretch out than his first effort. They tackle a number of standards, as well as two tunes each by Jones and Marchica.
Mainstream doesn't mean uninventive, and from the opening salvo of Charlie Parker's "Billy's Bounce, where Avery plays the theme straight while the rest of the quartet hits offbeat accents and Jones reharmonizes, it's clear that everyone is going for broke. Avery's solo is reverential yet wholly contemporary, fiery without losing site of the tune's core. Jones is as comfortable with brisk chordal passages as he is lithe single note lines, while Plaxico's inherent flexibility and Marchica's powerful yet always melodic approach work well, whether in accompaniment or solo contexts.
"Tequila has been covered far too often, but this quartet turns it into a soulful, funky romp where Jones' chordal skills are once again on display. Plaxico's almost Jaco-esque 16th note foundation and Marchica's unassailable groove makes the tune fun without the usual tongue-in-cheek shtick. Marchica's own compositions range from the blues-based fast swing of "9H5 to the Elvin Jones triplet feel of the modal "The Joneses, which refers to both Elvin and Rodney. Jones' two compositions include the open-ended "Journey's End, with its relaxed yet somehow insistent feel, and the mid-tempo post bop tune "Minor Mishap.
The studio can sometimes be a cold place, making it difficult to achieve the kind of "in the zone group feel that happens more naturally in a live context, but Marchica and the quartet manage to give In the Ring the true spirit of what jazz should be aboutopen ears, open minds, and, despite its placement in a mainstream context, a distinct element of risk.
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Track Listing: Billy's Bounce; Worm; Tequila; 9H5; Journey's End; The Joneses; Minor Mishap; I Can't Get Started; Summertime
Personnel: Ray Marchica (drums); Rodney Jones (guitar); Lonnie Plaxico (bass); Teodross Avery (tenor saxophone)
Record Label: Sons of Sound