This is my second “experience” with Chicago–based saxophonist Mark Fechner’s quartet, and as with the first, it’s an earnest but for the most part unimpressive enterprise. An obvious departure this time around is that Fechner plays only alto or tenor saxophone, whereas on his previous release ( Up Jumped Spring ), he played baritone on four selections. Nevertheless, as we remarked then and repeat now, “[Fechner’s] voice simply isn’t strong enough to carry the tune.” Fechner, an admirer of Chicago’s “little giant,” Johnny Griffin, among others, favors rapid tempos but hasn’t enough technique or resourcefulness to advance them beyond the ordinary. Truth be told, he fares much better on the more even–tempered numbers (“Georgia,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) wherein the volume of notes one plays isn’t as meaningful as the ardor invested in each of them. I hesitate to write this about any Jazzer, especially one who is apparently so passionate about the music, but at faster tempos Fechner doesn’t seem — to me, at least — to swing. I can’t say why; he’s evidently giving the music everything he has, but the solos often emerge as more contrived and wooden than loose and spontaneous. One may reasonably ascribe at least a part of this shortcoming to Fechner’s technical skills, which need some work. But as he has been gigging around Chicago for nearly two decades, and spends part of his time as an educator, any marked improvement there would seem to be less than plausible. As for the other members of Fechner’s group, they are more competent than noteworthy, although guitarist Keiner has several bright solos. For the record, Fechner plays alto on four selections (“Georgia,” Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy,” his own flag–waver, “Wing It,” Chick Corea’s “La Fiesta”), tenor the rest of the way. Bradley Parker–Sparrow ends his liner notes with a question: “Dig it?” Frankly, Brad, we didn’t, but that’s not to say there are none who would. It’s an earnest, well–recorded and generously timed mainstream session (with a lovely cover photo), one that others may warm to far more readily than we.
Track listing: May–Reh; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; The Kicker; Island Birdie; Seven Steps to Heaven; Georgia; Spain; Free for All; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Jordu; Caravan; Wing It; La Fiesta (71:12).
Mark Fechner, alto and tenor saxophone; Pat Keiner, guitar; Jeff Hansel, bass; Bret Sher, drums.
Contact: Southport Records, 3501 N. Southport, Chicago, IL 60657 (phone 773