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Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction

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Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction
New York-bred alto saxophonist Jon Gordon has come a long way since he was hailed as something of a prodigy in the mid-1980s and earned first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 1996. The music performed by Gordon's nonet on Stranger Than Fiction, we are told, "reflects [his] realization that reality takes twists and turns [that are] far more unpredictable than any author would dare write."

There are indeed many twists and turns—most of them pleasing, a few rather less so—within the ten charts Gordon has written for his ensemble, which consists for the most part of faculty and former students at the University of Manitoba in Canada, where Gordon has taught for nearly a decade. His cool, vibrato-less alto is the main solo voice, with concise yet engaging statements along the way by guitarists Jocelyn Gould and Larry Roy, pianists Will Bonness and Orrin Evans, bass clarinetist John Ellis, trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Derrick Gardner. The music is more cerebral than swinging, which may charm some ears while leaving others unmoved. No matter the consequence, Gordon has a plan and follows it to the letter.

The studio date opens in free-form style with "Pointillism," an exploratory treatise on which Gordon shows his avant-garde creds, before nestling into a more temperate groove on "Havens" and the numbers that follow. There is one curious aside midstream—the brief "Sunyasin"—on which Gould is listed as vocalist, as she is on "Pointillism," but the vocals are wordless and more or less dispensable. The penultimate number, "Steps," is another anomaly, running for less than a minute, wherein reeds and brass fashion a graceful chorale without the rhythm section. "Waking Dream," which brings down the curtain, is another exercise in translucency on which Gordon's alto is front and center. Notwithstanding its placid veneer, the music is well-written, the ensemble alert and capable. One's reaction may depend in large measure on his or her fondness for jazz that is more meditative than convivial. While Gordon has much of interest to say, he does say it rather quietly.

Track Listing

Pointillism; Havens; Stranger Than Fiction; Dance; Sunyasin; Counterpoint; Bella; Modality; Steps; Waking Dream.

Personnel

Jon Gordon
saxophone, alto
Reginald Lewis
saxophone
Tristan Martinuson
saxophone, tenor
John Ellis
saxophone, tenor
Annna Blackmore
clarinet, bass
Alan Ferber
trombone
Larry Roy
guitar
Julian Bradford
bass, acoustic

Album information

Title: Stranger Than Fiction | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: ArtistShare


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