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Extended Analysis

The Chad Makela Quartet: Flicker

By Published: January 31, 2006
The Chad Makela Quartet
Flicker
Cellar Live
2005

Now based in Vancouver, British Columbia, baritone saxophonist Chad Makela attended the University of North Texas on a scholarship, obtained a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies and played with the renowned One O'Clock Lab Band for three years, working with Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, Slide Hampton and Peter Erskine. After leaving the Dallas-Fort Worth area he lived in Washington, DC, arranging, writing and playing with R&B artists Percy Sledge, Jerry Butler and Lloyd Price. He also began playing baritone and clarinet for the Doc Severinsen Orchestra; Makela still tours with them several times a year.

Reading this capsule résumé doesn't prepare one fully for the pliant creativity of the original compositions and edgy improvisations on Flicker. The quartet with trumpeter Brad Turner, bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Jesse Cahill was recorded live at the Cellar Restaurant/Jazz Club in Vancouver on May 8, 2004.

Turner won the National Jazz Award for Musician of the Year in 2005, plus awards for Jazz Trumpeter of the Year in 1999 and Jazz Composer of the Year in both 2000 and 2002. Widely respected as a composer in addition to his talents as a trumpeter, pianist and drummer, his own quartet's critically acclaimed debut release Long Story Short was followed in 1998 by There and Back. Also in that year—and again in 1999—he won the Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album with the electric jazz group Metalwood.

The program on Flicker includes four Makela originals, Turner's "Underdog, the standard "My Ideal, and Joe Lovano's brisk, Ornette-ish "Uprising. It's become something of a cliché to compare any saxophone/trumpet/bass/drums quartet to the classic Ornette Coleman group. In many cases—including this one—the comparison is still apropos. The harmonic freedom, sinuous melodic contours, infectious yet intricate and elastic rhythms and oblique connection to the blues in both Makela's and Turner's compositions beg the analogy; they're arch yet accessible, light in texture but pithy, full- bodied and harmonically lush.

Purely in terms of instrumentation, another precursor is the classic Gerry Mulligan quartet with Chet Baker. These performances are predominantly in the time-honored "head-solos-head form (or more precisely, "theme-solos-theme, as the compositions appear to be considerably more plotted out than were the head arrangements of the bop era.) The combination of baritone saxophone and trumpet less a chording instrument is still relatively uncommon; horn players have plenty of room to excel or enough cordage to gibbet themselves, depending on the efficacy of their afflatus. Makela and Turner carry it off with aplomb. Blow on, gentlemen, blow on.

Bassists and drummers have to be highly attentive, not letting the pulse evaporate or the colors fade. Paul Rushka doesn't indulge in the guitaristic gallimaufry so prevalent among modern double bassists. He comes across a bit like a postmodern Milt Hinton, providing a powerful pulse that never flags—even during his solos—and not forgetting that bass means "bottom while piloting the rhythm. Rushka also displays a kinship with Charlie Haden (not so coincidentally the fulcrum of Ornette's archetypal quartet.) Rushka's solo on "Comfort Level has the sense of gravitas, melodic flair, rich timbre and unshakable time sense so central to Haden's sound.

James Cahill is a kaleidoscopic drummer, using the full trap set in very melodic and resourceful fashion, conversing with the other musicians in a kind of melodic counterpoint also reminiscent of the drummer Billy Higgins in Ornette's group; he has superb taste, knowing when to lay back and when to drive. The live recording balances the bass and drums nicely, with neither overpowering the other.

The Chad Makela Quartet is subtle and intimate, but with the bite and complexity of a good curry. Judging from the rather anemic applause after each piece, the crowd may have been a bit too intimate for the financial well being of the musicians and club owner; it sounds like an audience of perhaps twenty or so people.

"Seventh Day Rain is a dark, languid, elegiac and fervent feature for Makela and rhythm. The baritone work here evokes the kind of poignant yet fervid mood created by John Coltrane in "Alabama, although it sounds nothing like that piece and little like Coltrane. Makela is a player with stories to tell and moods to evoke. Perfect music for a Pacific Northwest winter. Ephemeral and deliquescent, it departs like rainwater down a storm drain.

"My Ideal is Turner's turn alone with Rushka and Cahill. In contrast to Makela's feature, it is a bright, breezy medium-tempo saunter that takes a little over eleven minutes to reach its destination. Turner possesses formidable technique, eliciting a full, opulent tone in all registers of the horn, from airy sotto voce low notes à la Ruby Braff to stinging, perfectly articulated high notes that sizzle with excitement. There's a similarity to Dave Douglas in his sound and phrasing, and that's heavy company indeed.

Chad Makela is a name to remember. His playing has a depth of feeling and potent focus that communicates very directly with the listener. This CD is an impressive recording debut from a player sure to leave a mark on the development of jazz as the 21st Century progresses. It also includes some of the finest recorded work that I've heard from Brad Turner. Among the releases from Cory Weeds's Cellar Live label that have recently spun in my CD player, this is by far the most imaginative and inspired.


Tracks: Flicker; Comfort Level; Secret Code; Seventh Day Rain; Underdog; My Ideal; Uprising.

Personnel: Chad Makela: baritone saxophone; Brad Turner: trumpet; Paul Rushka: bass; Jesse Cahill: drums.



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