Although not particularly well known, bassist Ron McClure has been one of those utility musicians that everyone seems to have played with at one time or another in the past 40 years. He first came to the attention of the public at large in Charles Lloyd's popular quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette and in the late '60s he was a member of the fine early fusion band The Fourth Way. Since then he's been bassist for such players as Joe Henderson, Chet Baker, Paul Bley, Dave Liebman and many others as well as leading his own sessions for a variety of labels.
Pianist Harold Danko and McClure have traveled in the same circles for years yet never recorded together. Wonderland rectifies this oversight. They are very simpatico players, both strong on melody and with a keen sense of the history of this music. There's a lot of give and take in these duets with each voice gracefully trading leads as the other slips into accompaniment. The program consists of five originals (four by McClure and one by Danko) rounded out by several lesser-known compositions by jazz masters including the title track, a later Benny Carter composition, and a jaunty Earl Hines creation, "I Do It Better At Night." By choosing this format, both reach a little out of their comfort zones and are forced not to rely on cliches. This lifts this music out of the obvious and both fly along the changes with creative verve.
McClure is reunited with his former Charles Lloyd rhythm section partner Jack DeJohnette on Hungarian pianist Kalman Olah's disc Always. Olah has made his mark at European festivals with a two-fisted style drawn not only from jazz but also from classical and folk music. He's always imbued his music with a strong sense of swing but here with McClure and DeJohnette in his corner, he rises above the occasion, attacking the music with what at times seems like an almost manic energy. The first half of the disc focuses on Olah's compositions. The title track, an energetic opener, won the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute's best composition prize. But it's "Polymodal Blues" with its shifting tonalities and "Hungarian Sketch No. 1"'s dissonant splashes and roiling drums that really catch the ear. Elsewhere, a lengthy unaccompanied intro to "Stella By Starlight" shows Olah's individuality. McClure and DeJohnette sound invigorated by this material, providing a stellar accompaniment to Olah's unique excursions.
The Fourth Way (with keyboardist Mike Nock, violinist Michael White and drummer Eddie Marshall) was an early fusion quartet that released three fine albums between 1969-71, none of which has been reissued on CD. Between Or Beyond was an album released in 1970 by the German MPS label and credited to the Mike Nock Underground, basically the Fourth Way minus White. Given its time and place (recorded in Germany in June of 1970), sonically, it's very much of its time. But it's a corker of an album that is the equal to any of the Fourth Way discs as well as a lot of other better-known electric jazz experiments of the time. McClure plays electric bass and it's mixed to the foreground so it functions as much as a frontline instrument as in the rhythm section. While some of this disc dwells in the area of adventurous acoustic piano trio jazz ("Hobgoblin" and McClure's "Denim Dance"), most of it is electric piano based jazz/rock. Nock sounds like he's having a lot of fun making his piano do a lot of things the old acoustic couldn't do. A point of reference might be Canterbury bands' forays into jazz improv. Nock's disc is a good demonstration that before it devolved into formulaic demonstrations of soulless technique, some highly enjoyable recordings were released under the fusion banner. Good to see this one back in print, although it may be hard to come by since it's a Japanese reissue.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Wonderland; I Made You Laugh; Nardis; To Start Again; Liz Ann; Freezin'; Midnight Grazer's Dilemma; I Do It Better At Night; Stella By Starlight; Beautiful Friendship; Nitequest.
Personnel: Harold Danko: piano; Ron McClure: bass.
Tracks: Always; Polymodal Blues; Hungarian Sketch No. 1; All Of You; How My Heart Sings; Introduction; Stella By Starlight; Elegy.
Personnel: Kalman Olah: piano; Ron McClure: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.
Between Or Beyond
Tracks: Outfall; The Squire; Hobgoblin; Between Or Beyond; Space Bugaloo; Lady Love; Wax Planet; Denim Dance.
Personnel: Mike Nock: electric piano, piano; Ron McClure: electric bass; Eddie Marshall: drums.