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Zach Brock: Purple Sounds

John Kelman By

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Virtuosity isn't defined by notes-per-minute; true virtuosity is instrumental mastery surrendering to the demands of the song. Sometimes that can mean shredding with furious intensity, yes; but the real deal also respects music that demands less, rather than more. Violinist Zach Brock is, indeed, the real deal, and Purple Sounds, his second release for Holland's Criss Cross label, finds Brock and his stellar quartet playing exactly what's needed: nothing less; but equally, nothing more.

Beyond two Brock originals, Purple Sounds pays direct tribute to a number of important touchstones for the violinist who, in addition to participating in projects by The Mahavishnu Project, Stanley Clarke and Kerry Politzer, is a member of the forward-thinking rising star large ensemble, Snarky Puppy. While he prefers to look forward, Brock isn't one to forget about the past, and Purple Sounds is a very personal look at influential violinists of the past, albeit performed by a rising-star quartet that imbues the music with a strong sense of tradition while keeping in mind present innovations and future possibilities.

Brock tips his hat to Stephane Grappelli by including the most iconic song performed by the legendary violinist with Django Reinhardt, the guitarist's enduring "Nuages." But with guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Matt Penman creating a bedrock of irregularly metered arpeggios and drummer Obed Calvaire bolstering everything with some near-funk high hat and snare work, this is far—and wonderfully—distanced from the ballad most know and love. Instead, it's reinvented rhythmically and harmonically for the new millennium; only Brock's familiar melody, stretched out further, gives the tune away before Lund takes a stellar chord-heavy solo filled with close voicings and oblique tension-and-release dissonances. Brock's bow control is especially impressive at the start of his solo, more Ponty than Grappelli, as he builds his own modernist interpretation of this classic that's taken so far from the source as to be barely recognizable.

Brock also pays homage to Stuff Smith with Dizzy Gillespie's title track, a blues from the pair's 1957 Verve recording, Dizzy Gillespie and Stuff Smith, again given a 21st century makeover with shifting time but still possessing a swinging middle section that, supported by Lund's more contemporary harmonization, allows the violinist to reference Smith in a most personal way as he shifts from sparer motifs to more frenetic phrases, with Penman walking firmly beneath him and Calvaire maintaining the pulse while, at the same time, responding to everything around him.

But Purple Sounds doesn't just recall well-known four-stringers, like a relatively literal look at Frank Zappa's balladic "Twenty Small Cigars," from Jean-Luc Ponty's King Kong (Blue Note, 1970). With "Quo Vadis"—taken from the shamefully out-of-print Passion (Capitol, 1979)—Brock targets, with great heart, Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert—a John Coltrane-informed legend in the making, cut short by cancer at the age of 32—and brings back the memory of the overlooked Harry Lookofsky with Charlie Parker's bop-driven "Little Willie Leaps."

Jazz violin remains a relative rarity amidst the plethora of saxophonists, trumpeters, pianists and guitarist. Still, slowly but surely, Brock is making a name for himself. With the one foot in the past/one foot in the future Purple Sounds, it's easy to understand why.

Track Listing: Purple Sounds; Nuages; Twenty Small Cigars; Little Willie Leaps; Quo Vadis; Folkloric; Brooklyn Ballad; After You've Gone.

Personnel: Zach Brock: violin; Lage Lund: guitar; Matt Penman: bass; Obed Calvaire: drums.

Title: Purple Sounds | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Criss Cross

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