175

John McNeil: East Coast Cool

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
On East Coast Cool, trumpeter John McNeil set out to reinterpret the classic West Coast cool jazz sound of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker's piano-less quartets. McNeil's career stretches back almost three decades, playing alongside Horace Silver, Slide Hampton, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, as well as Mulligan himself. As a member of Gerry Mulligan's group in the 1980s, McNeil comes at this material with both knowledgeable authority and respectful appreciation. What he does with it, however, is the sort of thing his former boss wouldn't have dreamed of.

While these tunes are thematically inspired by the classic Mulligan-Baker quartets, all but two are McNeil originals, written in the restrained, but harmonically rich lyricism of West Coast cool jazz. Only "Bernie's Tune" and "GAB" are covers. But this is forward thinking, open-ended, and malleable music, not rigid traditionalism. McNeil has established rules here—rules made to be bent, but not broken. Drummer Matt Wilson and bassist John Hebert are given free reign to vary the meter, rhythm, and flow of the pieces, most notably on "Delusions" and especially on their radical cover of "Bernie's Tune."

Metric modulation and rubato tempos take the place of Mulligan's requirement of strict, straight-ahead timekeeping. Employing a standard device, "Internal Hurdles" features the front line trading fours, albeit over a pulse-driven tempo—no exact time signature is enforced; swing is implied, not overstated. Chordal structures are insinuated and loosely applied, but never enforced as limitations. "A Time To Go" and "Wanwood," while structurally and harmonically unfettered, are lyrically gorgeous ballads that wouldn't sound out of place in the repertoire of either Baker or Mulligan.

While the members of the quartet adopt the patented cool jazz harmonies and melodies espoused by the masters, they are never limited by them. Baritone saxophonist Allan Chase honks and brays when the mood suits him, and McNeil's timbre bends under the weight of his conviction to break from accepted tonality to embrace the dissonant spaces between notes. For example, "Delusions" alternates a slinky noir groove with a spastic angular bop riff, McNeil's trumpet solo gradually building in intensity until his cathartic split tones blend with Wilson's increasingly frenzied press rolls. The ensemble snaps back into action for a sprightly vamp to underpin Chase's fleet baritone solo. With impressive melodic dexterity, Chase delivers precision lines that belie the cumbersome nature of the big horn.

Enjoyably accessible yet intriguingly innovative, McNeil and his quartet have taken Mulligan and Baker's piano-less quartet inspired music and drawn an overt parallel to Ornette Coleman's piano-less quartet innovations of the same time period, building a conceptual link between the two.


Track Listing: Deadline, A Time to Go, Brothr Frank, Bernie's tune, Duet #1, Delusions, Wanwood, Internal Hurdles, Duet #2, Waltz Helios, Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, GAB

Personnel: John McNeil: trumpet; Alan Chase: baritone saxophone; John Hebert: bass; Matt Wilson: drums

Title: East Coast Cool | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: OmniTone


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Aqustico vol 2 CD/LP/Track Review Aqustico vol 2
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 25, 2017
Read Lattice CD/LP/Track Review Lattice
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 25, 2017
Read Beginnings CD/LP/Track Review Beginnings
by David A. Orthmann
Published: September 25, 2017
Read Synchronic CD/LP/Track Review Synchronic
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 25, 2017
Read Slægt CD/LP/Track Review Slægt
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 24, 2017
Read An Eye on the Future CD/LP/Track Review An Eye on the Future
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 24, 2017
Read "Live" CD/LP/Track Review Live
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 9, 2017
Read "Up North" CD/LP/Track Review Up North
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 17, 2017
Read "Gateway" CD/LP/Track Review Gateway
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 25, 2017
Read "First Gathering" CD/LP/Track Review First Gathering
by John Sharpe
Published: April 4, 2017
Read "After The Rain" CD/LP/Track Review After The Rain
by Duncan Heining
Published: August 28, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.