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Billy Mintz: Ugly Beautiful

Dan McClenaghan By

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Drummer/composer Billy Mintz has a long career of enhancing the music of others with his percussive artistry, everyone from saxophonist Lee Konitz to pianist Hal Galper, to clarinet master Perry Robinson. His own discography as a leader is small, with frequent revisitations of a handful of original compositions that are as distinctive and as worthy of the multiple version approach as the music of Thelonious Monk. He writes small masterpieces and turns his ensembles loose on them, resulting in a recent handful of classic recordings: Beautiful You (Origin Records, 2004); Billy Mintz Quartet (Thirteenth Note Records, 2013); and The Two Bass Band (Thirteenth Note Records, 2015).

With Ugly Beautiful, Mintz moves into the realm of the "commercially dubious" double CD—dubious commercially, perhaps, but artistically a big chance-taking leap, that—for those who are ready and prepared—can pay off big time: see 2016's America' National Parks (Cuneiform Records) by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith; or Lovers by guitarist Nels Cline. Mintz was ready and prepared. Joined by long-term collaborators, the band is a quintet with a two sax front line that plays with a remarkable precision/abandonment dynamic. Saxophonists John Gross and Tony Malaby wail with a "let freedom ring" manifesto: weavers of raspy, ragged lines rather than seekers of smooth unison grooves. The energy—to pick just one example—of "Smear" rips and roars, with Mintz driving the momentum from the drummer's seat. "Dit" shifts from frenetic hive activity to fluid swing, with keyboardist (mostly pianist here) Roberta Piket playing with an unrestrained recklessness (reckless like a fox) that slips into a crisp angularity bumping along inside her fellow rhythm section-er's rolling groove

And never has a studio recording sounded more like it was recorded live. Loose-limbed spontaneity reigns, from the double set's wandering opener, "Angels," to the second disc's closer, "Cannonball (extended)."

Throughout the sax guys explore the "out there" side of their artistry. Pianist/keyboardist Roberta Piket solos and comps with exceptional originality and inspiration, and modernizes the sounds with her Fender Rhodes, Nord Keyboards, Hammond B3 chops. "Tumba," the eleven minute opening tune of disc 2, blows in on an electric keyboard storm front that gels into a mid-sixties John Coltrane groove, with Mintz percolating, Piket digging deep into hypnotic McCoy Tyner chords. Five minutes in the horns enter, expansive and orchestral, before Malaby, on soprano sax, slips into a sinuous, mysterious exposition.

Commercially, who knows how successful this one will be. How successful will any jazz CD be these days? Artistically, Ugly Beautiful is a triumph. Billy Mintz, with a finely-focused vision, had a lot to say, and he and this band said it with an undiluted integrity. It is at times wild and free, other times reflective and beautiful, always in a distinctly off kilter, Mintz-ian way.

Track Listing: CD1: Angels; Vietnam; Dit; Flight; Flight (Ballad); Cannonball; Smear; Dit (alternate take); Umba. CD2: Tumba; Dirge; Love And Beauty; Ugly Beautiful; Relent; Retribution; After Retribution; Cannonball (extended).

Personnel: John Gross: tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Roberta Piket: piano, Fender rhodes; Nord Keyboard, Hammond B3; Hilliard Greene: bass; Billy Mintz: drums.

Title: Ugly Beautiful | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Thirteenth Note Records


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