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Upon listening to their extremely impressive 1996 effort “Fo(u)r” on Black Saint Records, this San Francisco based Trio continue to chart new turf as being sort of a communal think tank for the creme’ de la creme’ of today’s Modern & Free Jazz artists. “What We Live” is: ROVA’s Larry Ochs (Tenor, Sopranino Sax), Donald Robinson (Drums) and Lisle Ellis (Bass). This ever-evolving Trio often serve as the foundation for starkly unique Improvisation and Compositional explorations. “What We Live” at various times is prone to expand upon the Trio format and on “Quintet For A Day” we see the welcome additions of modern day bleeding edge Trumpeter’s Wadada Leo Smith and Dave Douglas. On the heels of the excellent Yo’ Miles project with extraordinary Guitarist Henry Kaiser, Wadada Leo Smith has thankfully become a bit more active as a recording artist. Dave Douglas has been knocking fans and critics off their feet with many concurrent projects including: Tiny Bell Trio, Stargaz! er (Tribute to Wayne Shorter), Moving Portrait (Tribute to Joni Mitchell), his String-orientated groups and stints with John Zorn’s Masada. Douglas is equally at home whether performing mainstream or free jazz. “Quintet For A Day” is a Superstar summit of musicians who consistently display new ways of thinking and boundless creative juices, while showcasing advanced technical expertise and easily identifiable signature styles. Folks, this is a tall order and not easily attained regardless of the musical format or genre.
The compositions are joint efforts among the group members. The flow and intuitiveness is genuinely absorbing and outwardly evident. This is not a free-jazz blowing session. These pieces are structured yet rely on the capabilities and artistic savvy of the instrumentalists. These gentlemen are keenly aware of each other’s presence and on-the-spot musical direction. Perhaps the overall beauty lies within the fact that they are listening and delving into the mind’s of one another. Again, Ochs, Robinson and Ellis serve as the building blocks or catalysts for this approach.
The opening piece “A Brush With the Groove” is appropriately and vividly launched by the superb brushwork of drummer Donald Robinson while the distinct and complimentary Trumpet work of Douglas and Smith transpires in call and response fashion. On “Here Today” Bassist Lisle Ellis is the director of operations as he sets the pulse while Ochs, Douglas and Smith engage in some crafty improvisation while adhering to compositional form and rhythmic construction. When considering the sum of the parts, the phrasing takes on a circular motion. Ochs’ use of the high end Sopranino Sax contrasts well with the offsetting dialogue between Smith and Douglas. Throughout this project the musicians weave in and out while the horn section is liable to state themes in unison or purposefully off-center. Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s huge brassy tone meshes wonderfully with Douglas’ sonorous and sleek intonation yet both are individual stylists which makes for compelling and alluring listening. Whether on Tenor or Sopranino Sax, Larry Ochs paints colorful pictures complete with soul searching, lightning fast improvisational explorations. Ideas generally run rampant on all accounts. On “Yours and Mine”, Dave Douglas proves why he is at the top of the heap with blazing yet momentous 16th note runs and captivating lyricism while partaking in sequences of uncanny dialogue with the other musicians. On “Yours and Mine” the musicians eventually converge as witty and cunning conversational dialogue ensues while Donald Robinson emphasizes nuance and timbre with expert utilization of his cymbals. On the surface there are more compositional attributes than one would surmise, featuring rich thematic and harmonic development, shifting and at times abrupt tempo changes yet the “group” sound is imminent throughout the entire affair. Some of the interludes and passages within these pieces seem instituted as miniature classical movements sans the austerity as in “ Gone Tomorrow”. Much can be said of Donald Robinson’s brilliant drumming. His all-encompassing chameleon-like musical approach is praiseworthy. Robinson “listens” and yet knows when to stay idle. Ellis and Robinson are true clinicians and “Quintet For A Day” serves that notion well.
Simply stated; “Quintet For A Day” is brilliant. Surely one of the premier Modern Jazz outings of recent years and hats off to “New World Records” for producing this gem. Accolades and praise can be abusively “wordy” at times; therefore, the good connotations and intentions are somewhat prone to becoming slightly meaningless or generalized. Not here folks! Quintet For A Day is music magic. A Sgt. Peppers for Modern Jazz so to speak. Highly Recommended!