Jesse Elder Quintet: From Out of the Grey Forest (2006)
"Nothing is plumb, level or square. This first line from Alan Dugan's poem "Love Song: I and Thou" comes to mind while listening to composer/pianist Jesse Elder's second recording. Unlike Dugan's unnamed protagonist, whose haphazard structure holds up for just "one great moment, Elder's irregular audible designs come together as a whole, remain stable, and stand up to repeated listening. His diverse, melodically rich compositions are interpreted by an able band of young, largely unknown players who thrive on the odd twists and shifts in direction.
The jaunty theme of "Bridge Under The Water sticks around long enough to become familiar and then goes into free fall, as shifting fragments are sounded out by tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner and trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt. Over a repetitious figure duplicated by the pianist's left hand and the bass of Christopher Tordini, Elder takes the first solo and continues his chain of thought after Viner enters. Later Greenblatt joins in, and the two horns feed off of each other.
Before reaching the straight-ahead jazz groove that undergirds solos by Greenblatt, Elder, Viner and Tordini, "While On The Plateau traverses a lot of uneven terrain. Melodies that sound like incidental music from a 1960s cartoon leap from Elder's piano and the two horns. The music takes a couple of unexpected turns when Greenblatt's trumpet spits out a jazz theme over the rhythm section's stop-time, followed by a swinging hard bop line in a meter that's difficult to pin down.
Tommy Crane's rock-hard drum and cymbal accents form the backbone of "Sun's Eyes, a dour fanfare that fitfully trudges forward. Crane's brief break in the middle of the track is light and gangly, flaring out in different directions while he executes multiple rhythms.
After another mélange of Elder's themes on "Jonah, Viner takes an extended solo while the rhythm section stays in the pocket. Not unlike Elder's prowess as a composer, the tenor saxophonist has a lot to say, despite his youth. Coming out of a bop-oriented vocabulary, Viner exudes intelligence and favors an easy, comprehensible flow of ideas over sheer velocity. In the course of the solo's first eight bars, for example, it's a pleasure to hear him whittle a handful of phrases into a distinct form.
Greenblatt also displays patience and a sense of logical development throughout his brief solo on "Blue Refuge, a lovely waltz. An arc of probing sixteenth note runs is nicely framed by phrases that seem suspended in mid-air and plump variations of Elder's melody.
Track Listing: Bridge Under The Water; While On The Plateau; From Out Of The Grey Forest; Sun's Eyes; Jonah; Further Than Any Spell; Red Paint; Blue Refuge; Children In The Bend.
Personnel: Jeremy Viner: tenor saxophone; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet; Jesse Elder: piano; Christopher Tordini: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced