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Tim Horner Octet: Teaneck, New Jersey, January 7, 2012

David A. Orthmann By

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Tim Horner Octet
Puffin Cultural Forum
Teaneck, NJ
January 7, 2012

Tim Horner's one night gig at the Puffin Cultural Forum was accompanied by an unusually high set of expectations. In September of last year, Miles High Records released The Places We Feel Free, Horner's impressive maiden voyage as a leader in a career spanning three decades and over two hundred records as a sideman. Places adroitly maneuvers through the sprawling jazz mainstream without evincing any particular stylistic agenda. The drummer/percussionist's prodigious—and heretofore virtually unknown—talents as a composer and arranger, plus the efforts of a mid-sized band of Horner's middle aged peers, were essential in making a distinctive recording. The age of Horner and his cohorts is worth noting, in part because it's difficult to imagine a group of young musicians, regardless of their talent and level of training, interpreting his music with such skill, empathy, passion, and individuality. Horner has played with these guys for years—and in some instances, decades—in various configurations. Their camaraderie and mutual respect is evident on every one of the disc's ten tracks.

In the first of two sets at the Puffin in front of an overflow crowd—latecomers were directed to a room adjacent to the performance space—the initial five cuts of Places were played in order by the same personnel who had performed them on the recording. Taken at a brisk tempo, "A Room Full of Shoes" was rife with individual contributions that added spice to a continuous, connected whole. Both pianist Jim Ridl and guitarist John Hart comped behind tenor saxophonist's Marc Mommaas' solo, yet the music remained fleet, focused, and uncluttered. At the onset of vibraphonist Mark Sherman's turn, Horner emulated the ringing tone of Sherman's instrument by repeatedly striking the bell of one of his cymbals. Bassist Martin Wind shifted from highly propulsive walking to playing on beats one and three at the beginning of Ridl's solo, then let the change in emphasis sink in before once again decisively playing on all four beats.

Spurred by an unusually close hookup between Horner and Wind, the band had a knack for building momentum in a gradual, almost imperceptible manner. It was easy to focus attention on a soloist and then suddenly realize that the music's foundation had shifted. A prime example was "Museum Piece," which featured a number of solo exchanges between Ridl and Sherman. During these exchanges, Wind and Horner tightened and intensified a swinging, medium tempo jazz groove without drawing any undue attention to themselves.

In a band chock-full of able soloists' efforts, a few of the many highlights included Hart's "A Room Full Of Shoes" improvisation, which included concentrated, precisely swinging lines, a country-like twang at various points, and some hard strumming on the tune's bridge. Mommaas' light, breathy tone provided a nice contrast to the percussive sound of the vibes, piano and guitar—on "Invisible Heroes" he took a direct, patiently swinging route and then went in other directions, such as long loquacious lines and sweeping pleas. Throughout "Mountain River Dream," Sherman consistently altered the velocity and length of his phrases. Ringing notes that moved against the beat led to a long, impassioned run and a comparatively simple sequence which rhythmically blended into the bass and drums.

The concert also included its share of extra-musical pleasures. Horner acted as a gracious, informative master of ceremonies, briefly explaining the origins and inspirations behind some of the compositions. While introducing "Invisible Heroes," he gave Billy Hart a big hug and told a story about the venerable drummer's influence on his career.

Sherman's gestures and facial expressions served as a running visual commentary on the joys of making the music with his peers, as in the midst of his "Museum Piece" solo, when he let a single note ring and then gleefully shook his mallets in the air. Near the end of the out head, his wide grin expressed approval of Horner's intricate combination of cymbal rhythms. At another point he turned around and gave Wind a long look of admiration for the bassist's efforts behind Ridl's "Mountain River Dream" solo.

Characteristic of the audiences that come to the Puffin for the semi-regular appearances of jazz groups of all kinds, this event was populated by people who really came to listen and who weren't shy about expressing their appreciation of Horner's Octet. At set's end, lots of them were in the lobby purchasing copies of The Places We Feel Free. There's no better way to celebrate a truly memorable performance.

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