There are certain constellations which seem to bring out the best in an already accomplished musician. Just think of the great rhythm sections of Art Pepper
, John Coltrane
and Miles Davis
, and it's evident that individual mastery isn't all that is required to make magic. A superior sense of group interplay is also needed to aspire to improvisation that reaches beyond the easy effects-laden fireworks of an individual's technical mastery.
Boston-based tenor saxophonist George Garzone
has certainly found the right players to trigger the kind of transcendent play he is capable of. He may have had to go all the way to Denmark to find them, but his Danish group's unique chemistry on As Played by Ear
proves, without a doubt, that it was worth the logistic trouble.
It has been many years since pianist Rasmus Ehlers
, bassist Jonas Westergaard, drummer Jacob Høyer and Garzone first met each other. By now, it is a tradition that the group plays a healthy dose of gigs during The Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and this was also the case in 2009, where they played in front of a receptive audience at the intimate Cafe Bartof. Fortunately their performance was recorded.
It all starts with the collective title composition. Ehlers introduces his angular Monkish playing, mumbling over blocks of chords, creating an oblique waltz that gives way to Westergaard and Høyer's loose, funky pulse. Slowly they build up momentum, and after more than seven minutes Garzone finally bursts into the melodic framework like a tender hurricane, blowing around Ehlers' bouncing rhythms and knotty melodies.
The controlled reading of "Soul Eyes" moves the band into ballad territory, clearly emphasizing the often-mentioned similarities between Garzone and Coltrane. That Garzone is his own man is proven, however, in a beautiful interpretation of his own "Hey, Open Up," which has become something of a signature piece for the group. Here, Garzone's trademarks come into full fruition: inventive chord shifts; a singing sense of modernistic swing; and an uncanny understanding of pause and pulse.
Together, these four musicians create music that is fiery, free and, at times, close to spiritual. This is the case in Ehlers' strong "First Prayer," with Westergaard's thick bass chords. As Played by Ear
is as strong a case as can be made for jazz as a listening art form. It is music that glows with dedication and spirit, and those who weren't lucky enough to hear these amazing musicians interact live can now experience the wonder of their playing unfold in crisp stereo.