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Album Review

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

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Jeff Cosgrove, John Medeski, Jeff Lederer: History Gets Ahead of the Story
The striking absence of a bassist on this organ-trio tribute to William Parker speaks volumes about the singular approach that Jeff Cosgrove, John Medeski and Jeff Lederer have taken to the compositions of a modern jazz great. Parker's music is so diverse, his output so vast, that a cohesive overview would be difficult to distil onto a single CD, so perhaps for this reason the trio narrows its focus to Parker's post-2000 small ensembles, and in particular the bassist's quartet with Louis Barnes, Rob Brown and Hamid Drake.

Cosgrove, who provided the spark for the project, knows Parker well, having led a trio with Parker and Matthew Shipp that produced two fine recordings, Alternating Currents (Self-Produced, 2014) and Near Disaster (Grizzley Music, 2019). Those two albums were intense explorations in free improvisation, whereas Gets Ahead of The Story is, in the main, groove based, with Medeski holding down the bottom end with swinging aplomb. His walking bass lines, shimmering Hammond organ textures and probing punctuation, allied to scintillating lead lines, notably on the catchy "O'Neal's Porch" and the bluesy "Gospel Flowers"—to cite but two stellar examples—color the music greatly.

Tunes that Parker's quartet would regularly stretch to fifteen or twenty minutes, such as the boppish "Little Bird"—where Lederer tears it up on flute—or the quirky "Wood Flute Song," with Lederer on soprano, are given more succinct treatments. This punchy, direct approach (most of the tracks last around six minutes) underlines the accessibility of Parker's tunes, laden as they are with head-bobbing grooves and singable melodies. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on the soulful, brushes-stirred "Cornmeal Dance," where Lederer's yearning tenor embellishes the path originally sung by Leena Conquest on Parker's soul-and-gospel-fuelled album of the same name—one of the unsung jewels in the bassist's discography.

Homage to Parker it may be, but the trio leaves its own indelible stamp on his music, much as Cosgrove did with Motian Sickness: For The Love of Sarah (Self Produced, 2012), his wickedly inventive reworking of Paul Motian's compositions. Three original tunes, Lederer's John Coltrane-esque "Gospel Flowers," his sharply keening "Purcell's Lament," and the restless dreamscape of Cosgrove's "Ghost," bring personal shading and pronounced contrasts to the project, even if they seem like odd bedfellows in the wider context. That said, the way in which these three numbers straddle tradition and more avant concepts, plus the trio's ability to play in and out, are very much in keeping with the spirit of Parker.

The slow-burning neo-noir of "Harlem," which features a fine solo from Lederer on tenor saxophone, and a gnarly riposte from Medeski, rounds out a fine set in style. Whether or not this project remains a one-off, or whether Cosgrove, Lederer and Medeski will cast the net wider still, remains to be seen. Hopefully, the chemistry they clearly enjoy will persuade them to pursue a little more organ trio magic.

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: organ, Hammond B3; Jeff Lederer: saxophone, tenor.

Album information

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


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