The French horn is not the first instrument that comes to mind when one thinks of jazz. In modern jazz history, there have been only a handful of musicians David Amram, Julius Watkins, Gunther Schuller who have achieved any acclaim on the instrument. John Clark is another. A veteran of the progressive big bands of Gil Evans, Carla Bley, and McCoy Tyner, and a current member of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Clark is probably the most in-demand French horn player on the scene today.
I Will, Clark's fourth album as a leader, showcases his talents as a composer and arranger for a rotating ensemble of up to eleven musicians, including Alex Foster on saxophone, Ryo Kawasaki on guitar, and Howard Johnson on bass clarinet. This eclectic lineup works its way through five Clark originals, including the three movement "96th Street Sonata" and three standards: a trio (French horn, tuba, drums) version of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," a quintet treatment of the ballad "My One and Only Love," and a rousing large group take on John Coltrane's "India," which opens, appropriately enough, with a sitar.
Clark's compositions range from freely improvised duos and trios to more intricately orchestrated pieces for larger ensembles. "Bad Attitude," an octet number, has a tough Mingus-like snarl and features Clark's most aggressive playing. The title cut, another large group offering, is a warm, fairly straight-ahead ballad with Clark and Foster in extended solo roles. The ensemble playing throughout the album is always interesting and frequently inspired.
As the centerpiece of a jazz group, the sound of the French horn takes a little getting used to. The instrument lacks the volume and bluesy gruffness of the trumpet and saxophone. But in Clark's capable hands, it has a clarity and purity of tone that should appeal to many listeners.