It is unfortunate when a person dies prematurely, and even more so when the death is by suicide. It makes for a bittersweet experience when listening to Mazurka for a Modern Man, by acoustic bassist Thomson Kneeland. Drummer Take Toriyama had been working with Kneeland almost weekly for ten years. He ended his life two weeks after recording the songs on this release. For Kneeland, the tragedy was immeasurable.
The core group on the recording consists of Kneeland, Toriyama, guitarist Nate Radley and trumpeter David Smith. Alto saxophonist Loren Stillman appears on selected tracks, and a few other guests accompany Kneeland on "Moja Tesknota (for Deborah Zelazny)." "Ashlayah" begins with Smith and Stillman blending for a lively lead. Radley's rhythm guitar adds a nice touch to the melody, but only briefly, as the horns step back in favor of a guitar solo. The tone of Radley's guitar here is similar to that of Pat Metheny. After Stillman's solo, Toriyama stretches out on the kit, initially accompanied by Radley and later going it alone.
Smith opens the title song before giving way to Radley. The piece is divided into four sections, with Smith and Radley alternating leads. Smith's sections are tranquil, whereas Radley's are intense; despite the contrast, the parts complement each other well. Kneeland is effective, but serves mostly as a sideman, even though he composed eight of the nine tracks. Over the course of his career, he has worked in jazz and other classic genres, associating with such artists as Chris Potter and Kenny Werner, and performed in such venues as The Kennedy Center, the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Perth Jazz Festival.
Mazurka for a Modern Man comes together as a fine mix of contrasting melodies and improvisation. Kneeland says it does not represent Toriyama's best work. Yet, considering the strength of the drummer's performance, his passing is a considerable loss to the world of music.
Ashlayah; Hyperion; Mazurka for a Modern Man; Dithryamb; Moja Tesknota (for Deborah Zelazny); Libretto; Nebuchadnezzar; Rhapsody (for Take Toriyama); Crus Bifurcatus.
Thomson Kneeland: acoustic bass; Take Toriyama: drums, percussion; Nate Radley: guitar; David Smith: trumpet; Loren Stillman: saxophone (1, 4, 6, 9); Jerry Sabatini: trumpet (5); Evan Harlan: accordion (5); Eric Bindman: violin (5); Mike Connors: drums (5).