West End Avenue was recorded in March 2003, just a few months after bassist Jeff Campbell's session with Trio East that resulted in Stop-Start, and, like that slightly earlier session, it features no harmonic instrument. Only this time around trumpeter Clay Jenkins has been replaced by tenor saxophonist and clarinetist John Wojciechowski, and drummer Rich Thompson with John Hollenbeck.
The disc contains a mix of original compositions and songs by Irving Berlin ("How Deep Is the Ocean"), Mingus ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") and Charlie Parker ("Cheryle" [sic]), with Campbell racking up the lion's share of originals and Hollenbeck and Wojciechowski meriting one track apiece. Regardless of composer, however, all of them are related in the trio's unique vocabulary, one that combines the idioms of post-bop, impressionism and African folk (which I suppose now falls into the rather all-encompassing "world" genre).
On the sax, Wojciechowski has a confident, assertive sound that still comes across as buttery, even when he's springing into the shrieks of upper register and the honks of the lower. He achieves an appealing balance between hugging the melodic line and more fractured expressive drift, "West End Avenue" and "How Deep Is the Ocean" being two particularly good examples. Campbell bridges the span between melody and rhythm well when backing, and his moments in the spotlight are inventive and controlled. Not to diminish the role of the other two, it's Hollenbeck who really catapults this recording into the top tier, displaying a superhuman ability to be everywhere he needs to be at just the right time. His kit sounds extensive enough to cover a small town, and he uses it to its fullest, bringing a three-dimensional rhythm to these songs that is deeply textural, colorful and musicalall the qualities one could ask of a drummer. The natural seamlessness of the trio's music-making belies the fact that prior to this session Hollenbeck and Wojciechowski had never met.
"Tone Poem for the Desert" has a sound-painting intro made all the more intriguing by Campbell's clever use of his bow to simulate the berimbau. The song slowly gains momentum, with Hollenbeck's percussion becoming ever more emphatic and focused. Campbell digs out a thick, propulsive bass line, and Wojciechowski gradually loses himself in dervish-like rapture. It's one of the disc's standouts. Unlike Bird's "Cheryle," the cover of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" isn't much of a leap away from the original, though both Wojciechowski and Campbell approach it with less solemnity. In addition to his professional role as associate professor of jazz studies and contemporary media at the Eastman School, Campbell has also played frequently with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and so a few pieces from this accomplished and often captivating albumlike the closer, "Song for Ped"wear their classical influences on their sleeves.
West End Avenue; Peace of Green; Tone Poem for the Desert; Lydia; How Deep Is the Ocean;
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Cheryle; Voice in the Wilderness; A Wrecked Angle; Song for Ped
John Wojciechowski: tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Hollenbeck: drums; Jeff Campbell: bass