Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2006)
You might not expect a jazz performance of quite this blazing class from a band at the centre of a charitable educational venture, but you should never take music of this spirit and vigour for granted anywhere. Feel free to learn more about JazzReach (Performing Arts & Education Association, Inc.), which was founded by the quintet's drummer, H. Benjamin Schuman. The published details of the association's programmes may well lend great ideas to kindred ventures.
This official resident ensemble's work combines education with a programme of commissioning, recording and performing entirely new works. Making things better all round? Finding good material to do good things with, for sure.
The recording starts with a peep-peep-peep sound, the short melody announcing that a NYC subway door is going to close. Use of subway sounds betweenand to a very limited extent withinperformances relates to a use of subway sounds and rhythms in devising thematic material. Duke Ellington also got a lot from trains.
Once the morning train's going, with Helen Sung's piano as the music's engine, the drive, swing, and joyful noise of the group's two saxophoniststhe wonderful Mark Gross on alto and Marcus Strickland on tenorlift the spirits. Myron Walden's "Underground" does seem paradoxically titled, given the way the musicians make it sound so sunny.
Train sounds accompany the opening of Sung's "Fast Forward," where the two-horn combination is a sheer joy. Gross likes his horn's lower register; he's worked with Nat Adderley, and he filled Johnny Hodges' chair in the grandson Ellington band. Strickland's fondness for the bottom end of his soprano allows a magnificent blend with the alto, notably on Jimmy Greene's "Underground Messenger." And Helen Sung is a strong, affirmative musician, quite apart from JazzReach's programme on women in jazz.
This is lovely music. For another example, check out Strickland's Carneyesque bass clarinet opening on his own "Ephemeral Muse," and the rhythm section in general. The dubbed subway sounds have something of a better than unobtrusive effect of listeners lightly and politely chatting between numbers at a live gig. Study the programme in more detail, including John Cowherd's three-part "Subway Suite." I find it more interesting than the New York subway. Lean back and feel, well, elevated. The minute or so of a rush-hour closer affords the image of postponing the trip home till things are peaceful. Have a beer, think back, anticipate listening to heartwarming music and press the play button again.
Track Listing: Morning Rush (Stand Clear of the Closing Doors); Underground; Subway Suite, Pt. 1; Subway Suite, Pt. 2; Subway Suite, Pt. 3; Fast Forward; Underground Messenger; Ephemeral Muse; Evening Rush.
Personnel: H. Benjamin Schuman: drums; Helen Sung: piano; Marcus Strickland: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Mark Gross: alto saxophone; Joshua Ginsburg: bass.