Jellyfish plumes of toxic smoke may no longer hover in the air, but clinking glasses, persistent waiters and the intermittent roaring of drink mixers still conspire to diminish a jazz lover's listening pleasure at a live nightclub performance. Yet, somehow, spontaneous improvisationthe lifeblood of jazzand the intimate interactions among the musicians and the audience, combine in clubs around the world to consistently conjure sonic magic on the bandstand.
Reed and flute master Sonny Fortune's incendiary blowin' style is especially potent live, as evidenced by his work on albums including Miles Davis' Agharta (Columbia, 1975) and Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine In Europe (Enja, 1992). Nevertheless, after 35 years as a leader, Fortune had yet to record his own band in performance.
In January, 2010, Fortune released Last Night At Sweet Rhythm. Sadly, the title also signifies the end of this venerable Greenwich Village jazz club, originally incarnated as Sweet Basil back in the '80s. Fortune chose this final opportunity to record eight original compositions at one of his favorite performance venues.
On the opening "It Ain't What It Was," Fortune explodes on alto sax like a sprinter at the firing of the starter's pistol. But unlike sprinters, Fortune has both the juice and a rhythm section to push him into going the distance on this up-tempo burner. Fortune displays his compositional versatility on "Never Again Is Such A Long Time," an introspective, medium tempo ballad. Fortune, long recognized as a master of the flute, explores sensitive and vulnerable emotional territory, his compelling sound seemingly imploring his lover, "Don't leave!"
The band stretches out on "The Blues Are Green," as Fortune opens with a restrained statement of the melody on alto, before ascending on a relentless exploration of manic intensity. In support, pianist Michael Cochrane employs a McCoy Tyner-esque touch on the ivories, while David Williams' embraceable bass supplies the aural warmth that only flesh on string can yield. On "The Joneses," Fortune's unaccompanied flute establishes a Zen-like tranquility. Drummer Steve Johns' somber yet determined playing enhances Fortune's Eastern mood before a solo of his own takes the songand the rest of the bandinto a torrid blues. Fortune, again on alto, gets off a gritty, emotionally wrenching solo, before the song seamlessly concludes with Zen simplicity, just gentle flute and potent bass drum.
The Sonny Fortune Quartet's inspired performance not only reveals a multi-talented artist still at the top of his game more than four decades after his recording debut, but also bids an appropriate adieu to a night club that will be sorely missed on the New York jazz scene.
It Ain't What It Was; The Blues Are Green; Never Again Is Such A Long Time; In Waves of Dreams; A Tribute to a Holiday; The Joneses; Laying It Down.
Sonny Fortune: alto and soprano saxes, flute; Michel Cochrane: piano; David Williams: bass; Steve Johns: drums.