Saxophonist Mark Turner favors quality over quantity. Lathe of Heaven
his first outing as a leader since 2001is his first on the ECM label. Turner has hardly been absent from the music scene as the intervening years have seen him as a sideman for guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
and saxophonist David Binney
among many others. He's gathered strong praise for his role on trumpeter Enrico Rava
's fine New York Days
(ECM, 2009) and as one-third of the trio FLY
with drummer Jeff Ballard
and bassist Larry Grenadier
Turner cites saxophonists Wayne Marsh and John Coltrane
as primary influences; not surprising in that Turner demonstrates the same cerebral approach to his craft. Equally influential was growing up in a home where R&B was frequently in the air and that soulful element is always present in Turner's playing. The interactions within the group, particularly between Turner and trumpeter Avishai Cohen
are traditional in methodology, retaining the melody throughout almost ubiquitous and intricate improvising. Without benefit of a chord instrument, Turner supplies the overall texture of these pieces by utilizing the full range of the tenor in pieces that are as expressive as they are inventive.
The title track demonstrates that beyond Turner's classic orientations, he has developed a seasoned style that can be easily identified as his own. His use of recurrent structures is balanced with complex time signatures and episodic jumps. The quartet takes the limited number of empty spaces and gives them a positive form unifying the composition and improvisations. "Year of the Rabbit"a compliment to Fly's title track from Year of the Snake
(ECM, 2012)is angular with post-bop style solos but is in keeping with the overall mid-tempo tone of Lathe of Heaven
. "Brother Sister" is a cover version of another composition from the aforementioned Fly recording but here given a fresh, more wide-open make-over.
"Ethan's Line," refers to pianist Ethan Iverson with whom Turner collaborated on drummer Billy Hart
's All Our Reasons
and One is the Other
(ECM, 2012 & 2014) and provides Turner some deeply inspired solo time. Bassist Joe Martin
's pensive solo opens "Sonnet for Stevie," a tribute to Stevie Wonder and an opportunity for Turner to immerse himself in the blues. Cohenwho has yet to receive the wider recognition he deserveshas a beautiful extended solo that validates stylistic comparisons to Miles Davis
. Lathe of Heaven
demands of its musicians, a pluralistic intelligence in order to sustain the core lyrical melodies in the face of pervasive improvisation. The always present rhythm section of Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore
adeptly handle the task of keeping the music grounded but flexible. It's a literate collection of clearly articulated ideas, free from pyrotechnics but full of furtive passages, emotion and harmony.