Chris Kelsey is an original. The soprano saxophonist and composer hailing from New York by way of Oklahoma, has a distinct sound that doesn't seem to be coming from any external influences, but rather from within. As a composer, Kelsey writes music that is influenced by the jazz avant-garde, but also has clearly been influenced by impressionist and serialist composers such as Anton Webern and John Cage. His use of 12-tone clusters interspersed with modulating minor-thirds bears this out. In his arranging of the pieces, Kelsey many times adds to the level of aural intensity and dissonance by placing the two lead voices in the close proximity of a minor-second. The effect on the ears is such as when one sees a pair of identical twins; two human beings that appear to be visually the same, yet nevertheless have subtle and physical as well as distinct psychological traits which are clearly observable to a trained eye.
This CD, (his fourth as a leader) entitled In Search of Emmett Hardy, features Kelsey's Un-Ironic Quartet featuring Joe Fiedler, Dave Hofstra, and Ed Ware. The title of this disc is somewhat misleading, for although Kelsey pays homage to the unheralded(and unrecorded) cornet player of the ‘20's who died at the tender age of 22, the style of music performed by Kelsey's quartet is probably not like anything Emmett Hardy even imagined in his day. That being said, there are nonetheless connections between today's music and the past, and it is quite possible that Hardy had his eye on the future, as he is believed to have influenced Bix Beiderbeck, a harmonically adventurous player for his time. Kelsey understands that there is a lineage between then and now; in fact he is an expert in the field of the history of jazz. In addition to being a superb player and composer, Kelsey is also a jazz critic and historian acutely aware of the origins of this American artform, as well as it's principle practitioners and innovators. And as much as he is enamored of earlier styles, such as the kind of jazz Emmett Hardy played, Kelsey realizes that the survival of this music is predicated on one principle and one principle only: a true jazz musician extends the linage, thus elevating the tradition to new heights. In this way, jazz will be assured an ever-lasting life.
There is plenty of diversity throughout the eight tunes on this CD. The opening cut "Big Car Back Of The House" is a repetitive line with a short bridge that sets the ensemble up for some freely interactive playing. "The Realist Nihilist" has the vocabulary and swing of a bop tune and is played with a nod towards more blues based hues and colors. When listening to "Emmett The Obscure" I get this image in my head of Jack Klugman playing the trumpet on the Twilight Zone. It's a tune that mixes 50's rat-pack cool with an eerie, airy quality that predominates throughout. "A Lack Of Malicious Intent" has a similar tone, but is decidedly more swinging. The real treat however is the interestingly titled "Less Is More, Only In Horseshoes"; a tune that somehow manages to sound menacing, yet at the same time, quite pretty. An example of many dualities and duplicities that have become a kind of signature for Kelsey. He evokes emotions filled with dark,noir-ish imagery, taking us on a journey back to the future. After listening to this CD, you'll swear you were somewhere you know you've never been to before. A place you will want to return to- time and time again.
Track Listing: Big Car Back Of The House; The Realist Nihilist; Emmett The Obscure; A Man Of Considerable Girth; A Lack Of Malicious Intent; Lyin' About The Davenport; Less Is More, Only In Horseshoes; Lest We Forget, Bop Is A Business
Personnel: Chris Kelsey (soprano sax); Joe Fiedler (trombone); Dave Hofstra (bass);Ed Ware