It's traditional in almost all genres of music that the innovators are always given the most attention. This holds true in jazz as right now as artists like Robert Glasper
, Rudresh Mahanthappa
, and Darcy James Argue
are praised for being bold innovators in the world of jazz. While innovation and boundary- pushing are necessary in the development of jazz, there is also great value in doing something traditionally, but executing it perfectly. Especially in jazz, which is so focused on improvisation, just as much innovation can occur in the solos the artists play as in blending of styles or new instrument combinations.
For his 2013 release, Links,
New York based pianist, Luis Perdomo
, put together about as traditional an small ensemble as you can get. The saxophone quartet has been a standard group in the jazz world almost as long as the word jazz has been around. Despite the traditional setup, the group's playing is anything but, as they work their way through these eleven tunes, with originals contributed by everyone in the group and a couple off-the-beaten-path classics. Alto saxophonist, Miguel Zenon
, is a longtime friend and colleague of Perdomo's and was an obvious choice for this quartet. Bassist Dwayne Burno
and drummer Rodney Green
have also collaborated with Perdomo in the past, so this is a quartet we can expect a lot from.
The album starts off with "Percy's Delight," an up-tempo little tune written by drummer Rodney Green. The melody quickly gives way to Perdomo's solo where he demonstrates his subtly unique voice on the piano. His time feel and phrasing are both amazing and he gives Green and Burno plenty to work with rhythmically. They dutifully respond to his playing and follow his lead well. We got a quick listen to Zenon as he played the melody but following Perdomo's solo he shows off his unique sound, strong and confident, yet breathy and slightly reserved at the same time. This first tune alone shows Zenon to be a great foil for Perdomo and sets a great tone for the rest of the album.
"Waiting Time" is a very pretty swing tune written by Harold Danko who was one of Perdomo's piano teachers. Rodney Green really has fun on this tune playing with the time of the swing feel, first on brushes during the melody before switching to sticks for the solos. Once again Perdomo and Zenon display their great connection as Perdomo seamlessly passes the baton to Zenon for his solo. "Crossmind Dreams" is a little contrapuntal theme by Perdomo which quickly dissolves into a floaty, free-time feel as the group follows Zenon's lead. However Zenon quickly guides the rhythm section into a driving swing. The group takes the same approach for Perdomo's solo giving him some room to explore before taking off on that driving swing feel.
"Profundo" starts out as a rubato ballad, showcasing Zenon's expressiveness and control of the alto. It soon develops into a relaxed straight-eighth groove that provides the perfect canvas for Zenon's and Perdomo's solos. 'The A List' is another Perdomo original and one of the catchiest tunes on the album. Zenon's solo starts out basic and gives the group plenty of room to build in his solo until he ends with the catchy riff from the melody. With plenty of room to stretch out Perdomo proves that he has a real talent for motivic playing in his solo as he also guides the rhythm section to a crescendo before finishing the tune.
The album continues with "The Organ Grinder," an obscure Woody Shaw tune that Perdomo has re-arranged for this quartet. Perdomo takes the melody in the A sections, creating an interesting effect by letting Zenon double the repeated bass riff. The medium swing tempo of the song finds the rhythm section settling into a fantastic groove and Perdomo plays one of his most inspired solos on the album, showing off his skill both for playing deep in the pocket, and playing some impressive hemiolas and playing with the time. 'Enigma' is a beautiful and restrained sraight-eighth ballad. The floating melody dissolves into a bass solo that is most memorable for a "Girl From Ipanema" quote that can't help but elicit an eye-roll.
"Three Card Molly" is an interesting Elvin Jones tune that this group interprets in their own way. It seems to almost be leaning more toward a Latin feel but then shifts into a hard driving swing. Appropriately (since it's an Elvin Jones tune) the centerpiece of this song is a tasteful drum solo from Green. 'Melisma' is a beautiful ballad written by Dwayne Burno and the melody is beautifully interpreted by Zenon, however the tune falls into the trap of sounding a little too similar to some of the earlier ballads on the record and ends up being fairly forgettable. Zenon and Perdomo both play great solos where the rhythm section plays around with some double-time feels that help save the tune from being average.
Miguel Zenon's "Paco" has a nice easy swing to it and provides a bit of a new direction on the album with it's waltz feel. The 3/4 time signature proves to be an interesting addition for this group as Rodney Green gets creative with keeping the time. "Elena," the album closer, is a simple theme written by bassist Mimi Jones, who happens to be Perdomo's wife. The shortest song on the album, it serves as a sort of tag to end the performance.
This is an album of modern jazz, but it's jazz with a lot of traditional influence and approach. It doesn't rely on any 'gimmicks' for its originality but instead relies on the strength of the improvisers and of the group as a whole to really bring innovation to the music. Perdomo and Zenon's special relationship shines through in their playing and this album is well worth listening to, just to hear how well these two play together.