Palmetto: Bobby Watson, Ben Allison, and Steve Swallow

C. Michael Bailey By

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Palmetto scored high marks in the recent Down Beat critics poll and since the New York City-based label's inception in 1992 has been producing music of a very high order. The label roster includes Andrew Hill, Fred Hersch, Bobby Watson, Javon Jackson, and Dr. Lonnie Smith. The label continues its march toward supremacy with these three new releases.

Bobby Watson and Horizon
Horizon Reassembled

Horizon Reassembled shows Bobby Watson's project, Horizon, extending the vistas the band introduced in the early 1990s. The opening "Lemoncello" is a jazz fugue that allows all of the soloists to have a turn with the durable head. Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy" is treated reverently and swings as one would expect. Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" is a perfect period piece and serves as a perfect vehicle for both Watson and trumpeter Terell Stafford. Edward Simon holds down the map for the band with his intelligent pianism that almost speaks with a human voice. Victor Lewis is excellent throughout, proving that he and jack DeJohnette are the masters of the cymbals. Bassist Essiet Essiet provides his African "Xangongo," ending this fine disc on a fine rhythmic note.

Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel

Rereading my review of Allison's last recording, Peace Pipe , I am struck by my pinched perspective in dismissing that fine recording as a "novelty." To be fair, Allison is a 35-year-old rising star in the Jazz sky. His work under his own name and with The Herbie Nichols Project, has been uniformly well accepted. With the release of Buzz , Allison returns with his band Medicine Wheel, adding labelmate Ted Nash on tenor saxophone and flute. All of the compositions on Buzz are Allison's. There is a bit of an R&B sound woven into the fabric of these selections. "Green Al" "R&B Fantasy" display this outright, but the thread exists in the other selections. These pieces are of a delicate complexity perfectly suited for saxophonists Michael Blake and Ted Nash. Trombonist Clark Gayton provides the lowdown brass, that gives foundation to the front of the band. Allison and pianist Frank Kimbrough show the empathic relationship that was in so much evidence in The Herbie Nichols Project. Buzz is an important jazz recording, demonstrating the limitlessness of jazz.

Steve Swallow-Ohad Talmor Sextet
L'Histoire du Clochard

Steve Swallow recordings, particularly those with wife Carla Bley in a small group setting, are more precise jazz chamber music than mainstream/contemporary jazz. There is a crocheted element to Swallow's music, a delicacy, and an intellectual intimacy. This is a clever collection of compositions by Steve Swallow arranged by saxophonist Ohad Talmor. Talmor's arrangement of Swallow's music was guided by a formula used in Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale" a method employed by Wynton Marsalis on his recording A Fiddler's Tale. This resulted in combining instruments differently between one piece and the next. The result is very cosmopolitan. The collection has a very "old world" sound, provided much by Meg Okura's violin and Greg Tardy's clarinet. The end result is how we began, jazz chamber music of the highest order.


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