Bobby Few & Avram Fefer Quartet: Sanctuary (2006)
A misplaced piano, a dropped soprano and an aurally-intrusive air-conditioning system all conspired to derail this CIMP session by the jointly-led Few-Fefer Quartet. Fortunately, cool heads prevailed and the music persevered. The co-leaders' associations go back to the mid-1990s in Paris, though audio evidence of their collaborations proved slow in surfacing. Boxholder stepped into fill the gap, releasing a small cache of albums, but this date marks the duo's debut with conventional jazz quartet instrumentation. Coincidentally, it's also Fefer's first album in the format.
Listeners who are familiar with the Boxholder material probably know what to expect here. Few and Fefer are enamored of freer-leaning jazz, but their affections also encompass structured post bop, and neither is allergic to melody-driven ballads. Basisst Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor Baker make for a highly intuitive rhythm section that's adept at just as many settings. Fefer sticks to saxophones, leaving his clarinets and flute at home, and that decision further aligns the ensemble with jazz precedent.
All tunes are by Fefer, save the low-lights ballad "Boobree, which comes from Few's songbook. The former numbers draw on the saxophonist-composer's talent for shaping episodic, emotion-rich vehicles for improvisation. "Far From Few rides on the sturdy back of a Greene-grown bass vamp and descending unison line by tenor and piano. Few plays interlocking filigree chords in a solo as delicate as it is incandescent. Fefer's horn flexes plenty of muscle and swagger, racing from the bottom register to the top and back again. The easiest analogue in my mind is the early-'90s work of Billy Harper, and it's no fluke that Baker held the drum chair in that band too.
The title piece opens with a gorgeous Few preface of gilded right hand rhapsodizing, prior to the entrance of Fefer's simultaneously frolicsome and laid-back tenor, which early on sounds like an alto. Greene and Baker settle in on another easy-loping vamp and the piece slowly spools to completion by way of Fefer's steadily building, blues-suffused solo. This time the point of comparison is vintage and vivacious Jim Pepper. "For Frank (Lowe) playfully apes the dedicatee's breathy staccato style. Fefer aerates his tone and does an uncanny imitation while his bandmates breathe graceful life into the serpentine theme. Few's solo is a knockout, once again a model of poetic elegance and gorgeously executed energy.
It's an apposite lead-in to Fefer's extended modal workout "Club Foot, where a discursive Arabic-inflected soprano line presages protracted improvisations from every member of the band, including a striking duo section for bass and drums that very nearly steals the piece. "City Lights caps the set off with a generous slice of combustible free bop, powered by Few's cascading chords and Fefer's skyward-soaring soprano. Anyone with a healthy appetite for jazz that stresses creativity and spontaneity over obedient allegiance to any one stylistic doctrine or dogma would do well to lend an attentive ear to this effort.
Track Listing: Far to Few; Sanctuary; for Frank (Lowe); Club Foot; Boobree; City Life.
Personnel: Bobby Few: piano; Avram Fefer: soprano & tenor saxophones; Hilliard Greene: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums. Recorded May 7, 2005, Canton, NY.