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Rhyme and Reason seems strikingly serious. Even the combination of reed player Ted Nash's quartet, featuring pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison, with a string quartet signals a certain seriousness.
But reading Nash's notes reveals the disc's inspiration is the naturally creative marvel of children, specifically his own daughters. With this, Nash has attempted to capture the spontaneous joy and interplay of children within this potentially unwieldy octet, augmented brilliantly by Nash's current boss, Wynton Marsalis ("Apollo 9," and "Sisters"), and vibisit Erik Charlston ("Rhyme," "Longing"). Rhyme and Reason is the successful result.
This is an accomplished musical statement and a most pleasurable listening experience: a serious joy. As one might watch a rose unfold, Nash explores a variety of textures that deepen upon repeated listens.
It is, perhaps, best thought of as a composer's showcase. As such, it is a marvel. But Nash himself invests in it a confident, very appealing tenor sound that reflects rather than mimics the tone and temperament of Joe Henderson. He's not leading here, but just playing with the other kids. As with a child's painting or drawing, Nash attempts to ignore what he's learned and what he knows to play naturally. Quite a feat...and the true spirit of jazz.
Of course, the idea of a string quartet interacting with a jazz quartet is not new. And to these ears, it is a combination that works especially well - when done right as Nash has done. He never gets pretentious. There's little obvious attempt to be "third stream" and absolutely no embarrassing climbs to classical heights. Nash and company swing, making it easy to dig into "Apollo 9," "Spirit Dance," "Sisters" and "Ishtar Gate." True to his word, Nash has captured a playful energy that his group seems to relish.
As subtly interwoven as the string parts are, too, the string players know how to get down and improvise with creative aplomb too. Miri Ben-Ari, in particular, is positively electrifying in spotlights on "Apollo 9" and "Sisters. " The most unusual track here, though, is perhaps the most arresting, the Asisatic "The Trails," where Nash's flute engages with the string quartet in a hauntingly beautiful performance.
The problem with whatever jazz has become in the 1990s, is that it too often aspires either to nothing (revisiting trends and styles past) or struggles unsuccessfully toward more than it can achieve. Ted Nash strives for something meaningful on Rhyme and Reason. Unlike other proclaimed and long-forgotten jazz events over the last few decades, Ted Nash has achieved something remarkable and lasting - just as the decade comes to an end.
Players:Ted Nash: tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Ben Allison: bass; Tim horner: drums; Joyce Hammann, Miri Ben-Ari: violin; Ron Lawrence: viola; Tomas Ulrich: cello; Erik Charlston: vibes and percussion; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet.