Rick Helzer, composer/pianist/author and Associate Director of Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, displays a complex yet delectably attainable approach to modern jazz. With perennial poll winner James Newton appearing on flute on selected works, the various ensemble alignments provide a discerning glimpse into Helzer's linearly designed and lyrically rich compositional style.
Helzer bridges the best of several jazz-inflected idioms here, consisting of the soloists' brisk unison choruses often tied into bop-like patterns and glancing shifts in meter. He fuses an upbeat vibe that is periodically softened up with Newton's airy passages and saxophonist David Borger or flugelhornist Derek Cannon's exploratory solo flights. On Meade Lux Lewis' "Tell Your Story, Helzer injects stride and bluesy piano motifs into a blithe swing groove. But mobility is the name of the game throughout this stirring affair. During "By His Wounds We Are Healed, Helzer and Newton exchange precise unison lines for a piece that is dappled with subtly penetrating developments.
Ultimately the ensemble maintains a prominent sense of swing amid the fleeting canons of hard bop, where the artists generally expand matters into stylized and structured variations of a given theme. There's quite a bit to get revved up about during this superb reckoning of progressive jazz. Hopefully, Helzer's status will enjoy an upsurge in notoriety due to this articulately arranged and vastly persuasive album. A top ten pick for 2005.
Track Listing: Fire Storms; The Mentor (To James Newton); Tell Your Story (To Meade Lux Lewis);
Nobody's Song But Kenny's (To Kenny Wheeler); Bell Chimes In (To Lori Bell); Two
Witnesses; By His Wounds We Are Healed; He Who Is Acquainted With Sorrow; Sounds Like;
Mingus Meditations; Gethsemane.
Personnel: Chris Conner: bass; David Borgo: tenor sax (4), soprano sax (8); Derek Cannon: flugelhorn
(4, 8); Duncan Moore: drums; James Newton: flute (2, 10); Joseph Howell: clarinet (3, 11);
Kim Richmond: alto sax (1), soprano sax (6); Lori Bell: flute (5, 8); Rick Helzer: piano.