Many people recall the tedium of childhood music lessons: the endless scales; impatient instructors; and the drudgery of practice, practice, practice. A few gifted individuals get to move on to bigger and better things, but the vast majority face a conspiracy of limited talent and the distraction of competing interests. Fortunately, those who do possess the requisite talent and perseverance can reach higher plateaus, and occasionally, create something truly interesting and original in the service of their own musical growth, like drummer George Lernis and his Jazz Quartet's Shapes of Nature
According to Lernis' notes, "All of the tunes on this album are the result of my lessons with [pianist] Lefteris Kordis
. I was assigned to take well-known jazz standards as composition models; by altering specific parameters, e.g. replacing the original scales with Arabic maqams, frequent change of meters, subtracting notes, etc., I gradually discovered a personal sound, which I am still exploring and developing." Whatever the original model tunes were, they're unrecognizable now: completely subsumed by Lernis' new melodies, and his band's excellent improvisations.
The first thing that stands out about Lernis' record is that the drummer does not. As a composer, he takes great care with his melodies and changes, but stays away from gross self-indulgence on his drums. Where he does solo, as on the closing "Feeling Groovy," he subtly employs broken, obtuse rhythms. This isn't to suggest that his drumming isn't excellentit isbut his accomplishment is the complete compositions. Aside from the odd press roll, no one will confuse Lernis with the thunderous extroversion of Art Blakey
The result is an album with distinct melodies on every track, delivered by the tandem front line of Kordis and alto saxophonist Scott Boni. Boni conveys statements with a high, flowing vibrato, and he is also an inventive soloist. His incorporation of oddly phrased passages is one of the signatures of the record. Kordis' comps in Thelonious Monk
-like fragments, often around gaps in the drumming, but he also goes further out, diving right into the complete improvisation of "Bending Time" with low note rumbles and flitting, weightless cadenzas.
Taking the liner notes at face value, Shapes of Nature
is a master's thesis. These are well-sorted, truly original compositions that retain enough improvisational freedom to ensure that the participant's individual voices are well-represented. The opportunity to hear the direct results of a musician's academic studiesand to have them identified as suchis unusual, and in this case very successful.