The 2006 debut of Stephan Crump's Rosetta
(Papillon Sounds) was unusual in a number of ways, not least that it didn't seem to be trying to be unusual. The trio of upright bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitar played tightly woven, structured music, even without a drummer, and managed to find new ground in the shrinking territory between hackneyed and outlandish. They played, quite simply, good, challenging and, although the term must be forgiven, smooth jazz.
Bassist Crump has worked most notably with pianist Vijay Iyer
, but has also booked time with saxophonist Dave Liebman
and drummer Bobby Previte
, all leaders who chart new paths across well-trod pastures. His guitarists bring a wealth of information to the effort: Liberty Ellman
is best known as a member of reed man Henry Threadgill
's Zooid, and has worked with saxophonists Steve Coleman
, Greg Osby
and Matana Roberts
; Jamie Fox
for his part has backed jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff
and folk singer Joan Baez. The electric and acoustic aren't at odds, however. The rich tonality of Fox's hollowbody, played without effects, and the sharp edge of Ellman's undersized parlor guitar come off more like kissing cousins than sibling rivals.
Key to it all, of course, is Crump's compositional sense. The themes on their sophomore release Reclamation are at once bright and catchy, but at the same time well integrated within the ensemble playing. When melodies surface, they are very nearly of the toe-tapping varietyJohnny Mercer can nearly be heard joining in, in songbefore submerging again into the nest of strings. Crump stretches out this time with the 14-minute "Pernambuco," but there's still an inherent song-sensibility at play. This may be dinner music for a new era, which just means a new calm within a common storm. It's a fine respite.
Memphis; Silogism; The Leaves, The Rain; Overreach; Here Not Here; Shoes, Jump; Escalateur; Pernambuco; Toward Fall.
Liberty Ellman: acoustic guitar; Jamie Fox: acoustic guitar; Stephan Crump: acoustic bass.