It's nice to know that it's not all down to Charlie Haden when it comes to dealing with the issues of the day in jazz, and when such dealings result in music as stimulating as what's on Tenor of the Times
, then the raising of cheers is entirely appropriate. The same can be said for the political standpoint that permeates this disc.
The key to the success of this music might just be integration. The members of this trio have reached a level of shared musical empathy that means they're tighter than tight, at the same time as they avoid rehashing routines and lapsing into cliches. Dennis Mitcheltree's work on tenor sax is right in keeping with the working method that implies, and on "Ijtihad," he evokes the spirits of Dewey Redman and Charles Brackeen, neither of whom can realistically be cited as having a place in the pantheon of the run-of-the-mill.
"Halliburton Holler" lasts almost eleven minutes, and the fact that not a moment of that period is wasted shows also that this group also knows the meaning of coherence in musical communication. The momentum of the piece, punctuated by vocal exclamations of the company name referred to in the title, calls to mind the live trio sides that Sonny Rollins cut for Blue Note, but this is only a point of reference, not a template by which the musicians abide.
On a similar note, "Spiderhole Stomp" has an air about it like something from the pen of Herbie Nichols, and the stealth with which bassist Jesse Crawford walks his line, figuratively speaking, is a measure of the trio's effective integration. On "Swift Boat Twist" Bill McClellan demonstrates the bouyancy of his sense of swing, and the group as a whole demonstrates its uncommon ability to give the music some air, making for a sound that, while still in keeping with many major aspects of the tradition, indicates just how deep their own identity is.
The latter part of the album's subtitle, "Jazz & Political Discourse," comes in its most overt form on "Go Cheney Yourself!," wherein Dick Cheney's behaviour on the floor of the Senate is highlighted as an example of how the Bush administration is frequently guilty of the kind of behaviour it would condemn in others. That's called hypocrisy, which is presumably yet another word that George W. Bush would have to look up, assuming he knows how to use a dictionary.
All in all, this makes for a two-sided package in the best sense of that term, and the fact that it wears its heart on its figurative sleeve only makes it more rewarding.
Visit Dennis Mitcheltree on the web.
Personnel: Dennis Mitcheltree: tenor saxophone, voice; Jesse Crawford: bass, voice; Bill McClellan: