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Jeff Cosgrove/John Medeski/Jeff Lederer: History Gets Ahead of the Story

Troy Dostert By

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Jeff Cosgrove/John Medeski/Jeff Lederer: History Gets Ahead of the Story
As he has been one of the most influential and prolific musicians in the jazz avant-garde since the 1980s, it is surprising that bassist William Parker hasn't gotten more credit as a composer. Perhaps due in part to the sheer volume of his recordings—including every imaginable context, from solo bass to small/medium-sized groups to big-band outings—it can be hard to keep up with his work, making it almost inevitable that some of his music gets lost in the shuffle, its quality obscured by its quantity. Credit drummer Jeff Cosgrove, then, for giving us an album's worth of Parker's pieces; and for choosing a bass-less trio format, no less, to ensure that the compositions themselves get all the attention.

Cosgrove is best known for his freely-improvised music, and indeed it is in that context that he's worked with Parker: his Alternating Current (Grizzley Music, 2014) and Near Disaster (Grizzley Music, 2019) trios with Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp were in Cosgrove's wheelhouse, with an emphasis on unstructured freedom and texture rather than finding a groove. But the compositions on History Gets Ahead of the Story are taken from Parker's quartet albums, most of them from what may be Parker's finest quartet lineup, featuring drummer Hamid Drake alongside the two-horn team of trumpeter Lewis Barnes and alto saxophonist Rob Brown. And that music is absolutely, irresistibly groove-centric. Fortunately, Cosgrove's partners in this outing, organist John Medeski and saxophonist Jeff Lederer, know a thing or two about generating rhythmic energy, and the three bring a good deal of ingenuity and vision to the project.

There's no intention here of mimicking Parker's original recordings. Drake's inimitable, buoyant drumming is a force of nature, and Parker's reliance on Brown and Barnes utilizes deceptively simple harmonies that provide room for adventurous exploration. Cosgrove and his partners opt instead for a more oblique approach, with a darker, moodier sound and a more understated rhythmic foundation. The music swings—the grooves on "O'Neal's Porch" and "Corn Meal Dance" are certainly present—but it's not quite as up-front as in Parker's own music, as it insinuates itself rather than grabbing the listener more assertively. This privileges subtle creative nuances over more visceral results, which is its own reward, even if the music isn't quite as impactful as the punchier sound of Parker's quartets.

When the trio does find its sweet spot, there's a lot to like: "Gospel Flowers" has terrific synergy, with its medium-tempo bluesiness a nice vehicle for Lederer's soulful tenor, not to mention an especially brawny solo from Medeski; and "Things Fall Apart" is a delightfully off-center treatment that gives Lederer a chance to stretch out on soprano sax in a freewheeling dialogue with Medeski and Cosgrove. There are also a few non-Parker pieces here, including "Ghost," an atmospheric selection from Cosgrove that draws heavily from Medeski's rich sonic backdrop, and "Purcell's Lament," Lederer's imaginative re-thinking of Henry Purcell's Dido, again with Lederer's sensitive soprano work in full view.

Even if Cosgrove's usual predilections take him a bit farther out, this is a welcome celebration of Parker's oeuvre, and one that reveals the drummer's genuine appreciation for Parker's outsized role in shaping this music.

Track Listing

O’Neal’s Porch; Corn Meal Dance; Gospel Flowers; Little Bird; Ghost; Moon; Things Fall Apart; Wood Flute Song; Purcell’s Lament; Harlem.

Personnel

Jeff Cosgrove: drums; John Medeski: keyboards; Jeff Lederer: saxophone.

Album information

Title: History Gets Ahead of the Story | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Grizzley Music

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