Spark, a deeply swinging, straight-ahead, no nonsense album from Kelly Jefferson, is a terrific listen from beginning to end. Canada strikes again! The eight tracks, all original Jefferson compositions, are on the long side, most ranging from seven to eleven minutes, which allows for some extended soloing and interesting arrangements.
Jefferson has a big sound and a fertile imagination that produces tunes that have a quickly discernable structure and yet are interesting in their details. His rhythm section of basisst Mark Rodgers and drummer Mark McLean is very tight and burns with an intense flame. Surrounding this well-honed trio is pianist David Braid, who adds his tasteful voicings, comps and solos just when they are needed. While on Mnemosyne's March he almost stole the show, here he lays back, coming to front and letting go only on the opening track, "Contingency Plan." When he solos elsewhere, it for just long enough and no longer, and his intelligence stands out.
A few tracks make sparing and quite effective use of effects. "Rainwater Motivational" features some kind of phase delay/echo that adds an pungent edge to the sound; "Waking Moment" adds a programmed wah-wah-ish phase delay to the solo line. Neither effect overwhelms Jefferson's saxophone sound; rather, both enlarge it with a modern twist. This is not an electronica record.
What is most interesting about this disc in particular is what makes the Canadian mainstream scene in general interesting, from what I have heard. A simple kind of beauty shines through the music, allowing a very open romanticism to support the sophisticated and strongly structured tunes. While the music is solidly in the mainstream, it does not mimic anything from the States. Jefferson can clearly blow hard bop changes, but he chooses not to, and he is not afraid to shift to a cool walking bass or even a funky rhythm. Braid tinges everything he does with an almost classical precision, combined with wit (see the opening of "Short Order"), but he also has a romantic side, and he plays both ends as a sideman here.
The album is a big breath of fresh air, and as much as I like the intricate, the weird and the jazz which is almost all implication, this kind of music makes me smile. The players are much more than technical professionals. They want to communicate with the music they love in a most direct way. Spark manages at the same time to be both innocently sweet ("Songsmith") and sweetly intense ("Short Order"), and can be enjoyed from many different angles.
Track Listing: Contingency Plan; Rainwater Motivational; June Tune; Too Close To Call; Short Order; Waking Moment; Songsmith; Smirk.
Personnel: Kelly Jefferson: tenor, alto, soprano saxophones, effects; David Braid: piano; Mark Rogers:
acoustic bass; Mark McLean: drums.