Don't let the name fool you. The Lounge Art Ensemble's latest is hardly the stuff to serve up as background music while you sip your vintage wine. That's not to say the music isn't highly accessible. But it commands your attention, and that makes it anything but lounge music.
On the other hand the titleMusic for Modernsis more revealing. Saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Dave Carpenter, and drummer Peter Erskine are all seasoned players, with a collective resume that covers everything from fusion to big band, post bop to pure pop. Erskine's immense discography, in particular, has proven he's not only the ultimate sideman, but a focused leader as well. From the more brash and chops-centric playing of his early days with Maynard Ferguson and Weather Report through a kind of watershed in the early 1990s where his playing became more pure, more subtly collaborative, Erskine's ongoing evolution represents a remarkable musical journey.
The choices these three players make, when given the opportunity to create something of their own, acknowledge their penchant for a potent and modernistic post bop blend, uniquely filtered through their collective experiences. Erskine's "Plan 9 starts out as delicate funk, with Sheppard layering saxophones and bass clarinet to create a richer complexion. But Carpenter and Erskine gradually, almost insidiously, shift the emphasis into a light swing for Sheppard's tenor solo. The knotty melody of Sheppard's "Did It Have to Be You? opens up into a freely swinging middle section, as much a feature for Carpenter's outer-reaching acoustic solo as it is Sheppard's thematic approach and Erskine's always surprising musical choices. The relaxed walk of Carpenter's "Melatonin is strangely visceral, but in the most subtle of ways.
That's not to say they can't generate heat when necessary. Erskine's "Reason to Believe suggests a brief theme before heading into an energetic solo section powered by his relaxed but still forceful playing. Carpenter's "Manic Tropical Depression begins with a deceptive second-line rhythm that quickly and seamlessly evolves into a fast bossa. But the overall approach of the trio is of committed understatement. Communication is key, with Erskine emphatically locking onto Sheppard's displaced rhythms during his solo on "Melatonin. The vibe may be light, but the music has weight.
Amongst a trio of equals, Carpenter stands out, if only because he's the least-known and, therefore, the biggest surprise. Unlike Erskine and Sheppard, he has never released an album under his own name, yet his writing here suggests he should. He's an imaginative acoustic bassist, but his electric workwhere he peppers supple lines with well-placed chords to flesh out the trio's soundis the most intriguing.
Music for Moderns may not make it as successful background music, but that's because the Lounge Art Ensemble's inventive approach to contemporary post bop is so vivid and compelling that it's impossible to ignore. The interactive and interpretive magic of Sheppard, Carpenter, and Erskine is approachable yet uncompromising, elegantly substantive while ever avoiding the obvious.
Plan 9; Did It Have to Be You?; Wouldn't You?; Melatonin; Reason to Believe; Sweet and Lovely; Mr. Jones to You; Worth the Wait; Manic Tropical Depression; Buckling Under; Communal Solitaire; Angel Dust.
Bob Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Dave Carpenter: acoustic bass, 6-string electric bass; Peter Erskine: drums, percussion.
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