Eric Erhardt: A Better Fate (2012)
Erhardt's soprano sound is broad yet reedy, somewhat like that of Liebman's, while his clarinet combines a rich, warm timbre with impeccable technique. Traces of both Shaw and Don Byron can be heard in his playing. He's also assembled an incredibly talented backing band. Russ Johnson, Sebastian Noelle, Linda Oh, Dan Willis, and Mike Davis are first-call players on the New York scene. Pianist Nick Paul and percussionist James Shipp are perhaps less familiar, but no less accomplished. Together, this ensemble rises to the challenges posed by Erhardt's compositions which, in the hands of lesser musicians, could sound forced and claustrophobic. Instead, a sense of ease and grace prevails here. Guitarist Sebastian Noelle, in particular, imaginatively percolates through the dense latticework of drums, percussion, piano, and interwoven contrapuntal horn lines by playing linear, almost African-sounding single-line parts that both contrast and emphasize his musical surroundings.
The tunes on A Better Fate are well thought-out, almost to the point of fussiness. "Liddle Rittle" opens with Shipp's popping djembe, which is joined by piano and bass on the offbeats, and then Noelle's snaky guitar line. The bass/piano ostinato becomes the basis for the themea knotty, bebop-ish affair played with breezy authority by Erhardt and Johnson. The rhythm section splits the difference between swung and straight feels.
The title track opens with a free-ish dialogue between Erhardt and Johnson before settling into an asymmetric Latin groove that ping-pongs back and forth between 4/4 and 13/4. "Powwow Now" is buoyed by Paul's insistent, Steve Reich-ian piano which gets cut off, almost incongruously, by the tune's carefree, jazzy melody. "Ten Years," the album's longest and most raucous piece, is also one of its best, mainly because it serves as a blowing tune for Noelle, Johnson, Paul, and Erhardteach of whom execute brilliant solos. Here, Erhardt's dialogue with Davis is especially noteworthy.
Erhardt is a superb multi-reed player whose compositions meld melodies and harmonies redolent of late 20th Century pre-free progressive jazz and modern classical music with the complexly syncopated rhythms of various ethnic musics. All in all, A Better Fate is a first-rate debut.
Track Listing: Liddle Rittle; Ambivalence; A Better Fate; Powwow Now; Ten Years; Dance Afar; Not Like Before; Tyler Park.
Personnel: Eric Erhardt: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Russ Johnson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sebastian Noelle: guitar; Mike Davis: drums; Linda Oh: bass; Nick Paul: piano; James Shipp: percussion; Dan Willis: soprano saxophone, oboe (4, 8).
Record Label: Tapestry Records