Marc Copland got his start in jazz in New York City as a sometimes plugged-in alto saxophonist, working with drummer Chico Hamilton's Quartet, and releasing an overlooked album, Friends
(Oblivion Records, 1973) featuring his own quartet. Then he went away, and came back as a pianist, and has since shaped himself into one of finest jazz piano guys around, an artist with a supple touch, a feel for intricately gorgeous melodies and a deep immersion into complex harmonies.
In 2015, after a fruitful career that shifted from one record label to another, Copland started his own Inner Voice Records, and offered up the maiden release, Zenith
(2015), a quartet affair with Ralph Alessi
on trumpet, with bassist Drew Gress
and drummer Joey Baron
rounding out the rhythm section.
The year 2017 finds Copland offering up his second release on the label, Better By Far
, a reconvening the Zenith
quartet. The music consists of three group improvisations, five Copland compositions, and a Thelonious Monk tune, "Evidence."
Two of Copland's most significant teamings over the years have been with guitarist John Abercrombie
, and now with trumpeter Alessi. Where Copland's brush paints sound with a developed delicacy of touch, shimmering chords, and gorgeous, amorphous shapings, Alessi uses brighter colors and sharper edges. Especially edgy are the group improvisations, like "Mr. DJ," that opens with Baron's soft drum whispers, joined by Alessi's stabs of metallic notes, Copland's percussive ruminations. "Twister" is a more fluid, more introspective, darker-toned piece that builds momentum along the way.
Speaking of dark tones, the Copland-penned "Gone Now," has a pensive, melancholy mood similar to that of Gershwin's "Gone, Gone, Gone," from the masterpiece, Porgy And Bess
"Room Enough For Stars" floats. It's a beautiful ballad like only Copland can write, featuring Alessi in a patient laying down of the melody, and a piquant bass turn by Gress; while Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" finds the group in a more playful moodan energetic romp that stretches the Monkian angularity with an appealing malleability.
With Better By Far
Marc Copland and Company continue to create the highest level of jazz.