There is little question that for the public at large, pianist and bandleader Paul Grabowsky is the largest question mark when it comes to the personnel on this album. Holding company with Branford Marsalis, Joe lovano, Scott Tinkler, Ed Schuller, and Jeff "Tain" Watts is no small feat. And although the liner notes to Tales of Time and Space
attempt to answer the question of who Grabowsky is, the just-under-fifty Australian pianist is more than a musician with wide ranging roots in jazz and film scoring, he's a consummate pianist and composer who warrants significant attention.
Aside from those facts, the other welcome surprise here is that although Tales
is a one-off recording with a ton of talentsomething that often results in a muddy or uninspired datethis is a tight ensemble with purpose and drive. Everyone shines and has his particular moments, but first and foremost they serve Grabowsky's music and vision. Recorded in 2003, Tales of Time and Space
has the elegance of a modern straight-ahead jazz recording that one might hear in performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but the music also has depth and fire that can sometimes be lacking in such establishments.
Marsalis' command of the sometimes unwieldy soprano is inspired, continuing his impressive development of an individual voice on the instrument he has been cultivating more publicly of late. And while his quartet band mate Watts, the modern tenor giant Lovano, and the highly adaptive and imaginative bassist Schuller all turn in quality performances, Tinkler and his swaggering trumpet provide a particular voice that nearly eclipses them.
With a strong full sound and a background tying him with the leader, Tinkler more than holds his own on tracks like the opening "Tailfin, where he uses a plunger alongside Lovano and Marsalis, who states a theme that pulls in different directions of space and time following an opening drum solo that sets a locomotive pace. Grabowsky himself finally comes in following all this action underneath the band, and he almost immediately falls away when Tinkler races out front. Tinkler's articulation is crisp and never escapes him during his invigorating solo. He eventually pulls up his pace in time with the plaintive soprano that emerges behind him, eventually giving way to Grabowsky, who sounds somewhere between Kenny Barron's natural flow and Ran Blake's reductive use of space and sound.
There is little question why everyone involved was excited after the inspired take of "Tailfin. And the majority of the album follows suit. The one misstep, however, is the inclusion of a remix of "Silverland (dedicated to the Australian rock trio Silverchair). While it is an interesting track unto itself, with Watts mixed way up front, its inclusion here seems out of place with the overall feel of the album.
This quibble aside, Tales of Time and Space
is an excellent recording for those who enjoy straight-ahead ensemble playing that straddles the mainstream jazz vernacular and a loose and outer-reaching feel.