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Norman David and Group 4 at Chris’ Jazz Cafe

Norman David and Group 4 at Chris’ Jazz Cafe

Courtesy Victor L. Schermer


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Norman David and Group 4
Chris' Jazz Café
Philadelphia, PA
April 25, 2023

Norman David is a saxophonist/clarinetist, composer, arranger, and educator par excellence, and for many years has directed his high-powered larger ensemble, the Eleventet, first in Boston, then at Colby College in Maine, and for the last 25 or so years in Philadelphia. For a short time around the the turn of the new millenium, David fronted a small ensemble called Group 4 (Norman David and Group 4, Self-produced, 2001.) For whatever reason, he quickly dropped this project until now, when one of the members, drummer Dan Monaghan suggested that they do a reunion gig. The musicians, David himself, pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Jason Fraticelli, and Monaghan are all virtuosos, and on this night during Philadelphia's Jazz Appreciation Month, they delivered an exciting set of David's compositions and a jazz standard all of which embodied David's unique approach and stunned the audience with its excitement, sophistication, and affirmation of jazz as a fine art form.

David conceives unusual song titles that come from everyday conversation and somehow bear a relation to the music. The first number, "Now Get It Done," refers to a repetitive sense of urgency in the tune, which begins with a march-like rhythm with David on soprano saxophone biting into a tight swing with a recurrent staccato interestingly pitted against the bebop backdrop. At the end, the playing escalated to a superfast walk which ends abruptly at the edge of a cliff. A signature of David's work is a rhythmic pulse that is a cross between swing or bebop and a tight, almost Mozartian beat.

"There's Room for All" is, again, decidedly staccato. David spoke a philosophical narrative for the first chorus, and then, making "room for all," each of the musicians soloed extensively. The rhythm was once again staccato and even frenetic. The harmony had a blues foundation but with atonal aspects, as it moved increasingly into free jazz with shifting tonal centers. Monaghan's intricate drumming framed the atonality perfectly. It was increasingly obvious that these musicians relished working together and really loved the opportunity to go "outside" the Songbook harmonies and test their mettle.

The song title "Adoption" had a meaning that evaded this writer's grasp. It was a perfect foil for great improvising, with Lawton pitting left-hand clusters against linear right-hand phrases a la McCoy Tyner. David played phenomenal Coltrane-like "sheets of sound" of great complexity. The ending resembled a thunderstorm (think of the fourth movement of Beethoven's "Pastorale" Sixth Symphony). One could begin to hear how David's arrangements combine improvisation and adherence to the written charts in a very sophisticated way that inspired the players to greater heights.

"Subterranean Heights" found drummer Monaghan shining, weaving subtle patterns on all the cymbals, beautifully accompanying everything else going on. Fraticelli's arco descending and ascending bass exemplified the motto of the piece: "You have to go down before you go up." This was definitely one for the rhythm section with Monaghan and Fraticelli totally enjoying their interaction.

Finally, the tension broke with the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn standard, "It's You or No One." Now we had just a fast-paced swing rhythm flowing like a river. Lawton went all out swinging. Once again there were incredible sheets of sound by David which Fraticelli magically executed as well on bass. As a perfectly chosen conclusion to the set, this piece provided a kind of release from the martial rhythms and tonal shifts that came before. It felt as if the group was channeling the great John Coltrane Quartet with a feeling not unlike Trane's "Impressions."

Set List

Now Get It Done; There's Room for All; Adoption; Subterranean Heights; It's You or No One. (All original compositions by Norman David except "It's You or No One")


Norman David: Leader, composer, arranger, soprano saxophone; Tom Lawton: piano; Jason Fraticelli: bass; Dan Monaghan: drums.

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