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Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet William

Larry Taylor By

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In 1979, pianist Richard Sussman's recording Free Fall was released on Inner City to some acclaim. Now, over three decades later, Sussman brings back his band mates from the seventies to perform on Live at Sweet William. Chief among them is trumpeter Tom Harrell, who gives further evidence that he is a genius of improvisation.

Besides Harrell, Jerry Bergonzi contributes much with his powerful John Coltrane-influenced tenor saxophone. All are empowered by the estimable work of bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Jeff Williams, with Sussman's significant contributions as soloist, composer and arranger a given.

Leading this quintet in the late seventies, following the Free Fall, the group broke up, with Sussman going to Europe, where he spent became a sideman in various pop and rock groups, activity interspersed with occasional jazz gigs and teaching at the Manhattan School of Music upon his return home. In 2003, he was able to reunite the quintet, and it played and recorded at Sweet Rhythm in New York City, but the tapes went unreleased for seven years.

Over the last three decades, Harrell and Bergonzi have made names for themselves with extensive recordings, with Richmond and Williams also leading successful careers. The playlist here spotlights Sussman's sparkling originals—several from the '79 recording—intermixed with two standards which show off the horn players.

With Sussman's dazzling piano sets the pace at the beginning of "Waiting," the opener gives first exposure to Harrell's rapid-fire phrasing and Bergonzi's muscular tenor, while Tadd Dameron's lovely "Soultrane" showcases Bergonzi, who movingly evokes Coltrane's "sheets of sound" style from the saxophone icon's 1958 Atlantic recording of the same name, also humorously quoting Trane's version of "Inch Worm."

"Tiahuanaco" demonstrates Harrell and Bergonzi's intuitive interplay; the trumpeter picking up a phrase from Bergonzi, and delightfully expanding upon it—all under the urging of of Sussman's hard-driving piano and Williams' blistering drums. Harrell also brightly shines on Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke's timeless "What's New," his rendering a lesson in creative thinking. Harrell, with the rhythm section cooking behind him, brings to mind the sublime lyricism of mid-1950s Miles Davis, on classic albums like Miles Davis and the Jazz Giants (Prestige 1954).

Sussman's compositional talent is on display in the complex "Lady of the Lake." Written in concerto form, with several movements, it begins with a slow stately ensemble section. Then Sussman's piano opens a light, airy interlude, followed by a brisk, energetic segment from Bergonzi.

The closing "Free Fall" is free jazz within the constraints of Sussman's writing, which assuredly holds it together. Everyone shows off their improv chops on this riveting tune; anarchic, but never out of control. Williams' snare drum intro rallies the group, then yielding to Harrell's harried call to arms as everyone responds with sound and fury. Ultimately Sussman enters, effectively ending this musical skirmish with a strong statement, bringing to order its sublime agitation.

Hopefully this fine recording will lead to a second renaissance for this classic quintet.

Track Listing: Waiting; Mary's Song; Soultrane; Tieahuanco; What's New; Lady of the Lake; Free Fall.

Personnel: Richard Sussman: piano; Tom Harrell: trumpet; Mike Richmond: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

Title: Live at Sweet William | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Origin Records


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