Blue Note 7: Mosaic: a Celebration of Blue Note Records (2009)
Blue Note's 70th anniversary deserves more than a cake, a toast, and a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." To that end, The Blue Note 7's Mosaic: a Celebration of Blue Note Records is a collection of music from some of the imprint's greatest masters, as interpreted by a group of Blue Note's current leading lights. The $64,000 Question is: Why is Mosaic merely good, when it should be great?
A front line of Nicholas Payton, Ravi Coltrane and Steve Wilson would headline some jazz festivals; add Bill Charlap and Peter Bernstein into the mix, and the possibilities seem endless. Musical director Charlap is supported by Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, and almost every track is arranged by a band member. Mosaic should be one of 2009's first great recordings. So why isn't it better than it should be?
Things certainly get off to a flying start with Nash's flag-waving take on the Cedar Walton-penned title track. The Art Blakey classic opens with the front line in full cry, and then alternates between quicksilver swing and an alluring waltz as each member gets an introductory solo. Payton lets it all hang out, as he does through most of Mosaic; his full, rich sound serving as well on his aggressive arrangement of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" as it does on Herbie Hancock's colorful "Dolphin Dance." In the end though, "Mosaic" is merely an interesting table-setternot the lip-smacking appetizer it should have been.
Charlap's musical history betrays him when he steps out on the edge for "Mosaic" and for Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross." The renowned interpreter's body of work is so unerringly smooth that he sounds unconvincing on both pieces. Also, while his arrangement of Horace Silver's "The Outlaw" is textbook-perfect, his solos lack Silver's inimitable snap. Ironically, Charlap comes off best on "Dolphin Dance" and McCoy Tyner's "Search for Peace"tunes arranged by SFJazz Collective pianist Renee Rosnes. The Collective, which once counted Payton as a member, put Monk in their spotlight in 2007, and SFJazz's take on "Criss Cross" knocks the Mosaic version out of the park.
In any case, Charlap sounds right at home on "Dolphin" and "Search," and Coltrane has big fun on those tunes as well. As much as Wilson's alto holds serve against Payton's trumpet and Ravi's tenor, Wilson's best work happens on flute during his luminous examination of Bobby Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem." For his part, Bernstein gives Mosaic its best cut with "Idle Moments," a Duke Pearson tune written for Grant Green. Bernstein takes his hollow-body guitar to a higher level with each chorus, and the front line's background textures are both warm and bright.
Sadly, great individual performances do not make a great final product. Mosaic has worthy intentions, but ultimately it falls short as a tribute to jazz's Alpha label. Moreover, it perpetuates the fallacy that venerating jazz's past is more important than supporting jazz's presentor building its future, which Blue Note will hopefully help to shape.
Track Listing: Mosaic; Inner Urge; Search for Peace; Little B's Poem; Criss Cross; Dolphin Dance; Idle Moments; The Outlaw.
Personnel: Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Steve Wilson: alto sax, flute (4), Ravi Coltrane: tenor sax; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Bill Charlap: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.