Electronic boops and beeps are the first thing you hear on bassist Michael Feinberg
's The Elvin Jones Project
. This could either be a good sign or a bad one. Fortunately it's the former, and it acts as an effective reminder that drummer Elvin Jones
was a pioneering and exploratory musician whose legacy extends well beyond his years with the legendary John Coltrane
Quartet. If he had, say, quit drumming after leaving Coltrane's band, Jones would still be recognized as a towering and innovative force in jazz. Though the value of his subsequent recordings for Blue Note, Vanguard, Enja, PM, and various other small labels seems to be a matter of some controversy, a cursory survey will turn up abundant musical gold. Moreover, Jones' playing continued to evolve and change right up to his death in 2004. Sadly, it seems that many have already forgotten how fresh, distinctive and revolutionary his music really is. Feinberg, obviously, has not forgotten and this CDeasily one of the best tribute CDs of the past few yearsis well-researched, soulfully executed, and comes across as thoroughly contemporary.
Feinberg is a talented young bassist who noticed early on that many of his favorite bassistsJimmy Garrison
, Gene Perla
, George Mraz
, and Richard Davis
to name a fewhad longstanding musical relationships with the great drummer. Clearly The Elvin Jones Project
is Feinberg's labor of love. The band he's assembled for this recording is nothing short of amazing, though its instrumentation is a bit unexpected. Jones, it seems, rarely worked with trumpeters, aside from his brother Thad Jones
, who appears on several early recordings. Instead, Jones preferred two, or even three, saxophones in his front lines. Yet, Tim Hagans
sounds pitch perfect right down to his very Thad Jones-like velvety tone. Veteran tenor titan George Garzone
is the sole reedman, and seems a natural choice given his deep knowledge of post-Coltrane saxophone artistry. Garzone has also worked with the Argentinian keyboardist Leo Genovese
. Genovesea longstanding member of Esperanza Spalding's bandlike Feinberg seems to have an innate knowledge of the style and demands of this music despite his youth. Billy Hart
is a perfect choice for the drum chair; he's a player who's been around long enough to soak up the essential characteristics of Jones' sound and phrasing, yet authoritative enough to play from his own point of view. Hart's profound understanding of Jones' drumming crystallizes during his lengthy solo on "The Unknighted Nations."
The music here spans Jones' long and deep repertoire, taking in a few tunes associated with Jones' tenure in the Coltrane quartet"Miles' Mode" and "Nancy With the Laughing Face"as well as later material which got into both the avant-garde and fusion arenas without sacrificing any of its essential jazz characteristics. Genovese's high comfort level with the Rhodes piano is especially valuable on the latter, and he turns in particularly glittering work on the trance- like "Earth Jones." Genovese's amazingly raucous, densely harmonic acoustic piano solo grabs the spotlight on "Taurus People." Feinberg's one original tune, "It Is Written," is a lovely dark-hued and bluesy piece inspired by guitarist Bill Frisell
's trio CD, With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones
CD (Nonesuch, 2001). Alex Wintz
is quite effective here, soloing with a hushed tone and behind-the-beat phrasing that's more Grant Green
than Frisell, alongside Genovese's pretty Rhodes and Hart's uncannily polyrhythmic brushes. As expected, Garzone and Hagans shine on pretty much every track; Hagans burns most brightly on "Three Card Molly" and "The Unknighted Nations," while Garzone illuminates both "Miles Mode" and "Taurus People" with gloriously unhinged virtuosity. An accomplished improvisor, Feinberg steps out in front with some beautiful arco work on "Nancy With The Laughing Face."The Elvin Jones Project
succeeds both as a tribute to a legendary musician and larger-than-life personality, and as an example of how jazz continues to be relevant and real in today's completely nutty music scene.
Earth Jones; Miles' Mode; Taurus People; It Is Written; The Unknighted
Nations; Nancy With the Laughing Face; Three Card Molly.
Michael Feinberg: bass, electronics; Billy Hart: drums; George Garzone:
saxophones; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Leo Genovese: piano, Rhodes, keyboards;
Alex Wintz: guitar (4, 5).