The Giuseppi Logan Quintet
I hate to say it, but the answer is no.
The question was whether not saxophonist Giuseppi Logan's chops have improved since his two albums for ESP-Disk which came out over 40 years ago. (I've heard the question a couple times since I bought this album.) Logan's tone on tenor and alto saxophone was pretty raw and thin back then, although he did manage to execute some good ideas on those horns. With Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez and Milford Graves backing him up, it was raggedy, but engaging free jazz set. (For more details, see my entry from August 19, 2008)
Around that time, Logan reemerged in New York City, where he was busking in Tompkins Square Park. Then last fall, the label named after that park took him into the studio with Dave Burrell (piano), Warren Smith (drums), Francois Grillot (bass) and Matt Lavelle (on the unusual doubling of trumpet and bass clarinet).
The first thing that hits you upon hearing opening track "Steppin'" is that Lavelle and Logan don't sound in tune with each other. This is not the same kind of "not in tune" criticism that was thrown at Ornette Coleman or Jackie McLean through the years. This is the sound of a saxophone mouthpiece being shoved too far onto the neck of the horn - or maybe not far enough - and no one testing it again the A on the piano. Based on a riff that recalls "Giant Steps," the song's arrangement sounds a little sloppy too, as if no one knew if the head was repeated twice or if it lead straight into the solos. There are several tracks, in fact, where the band seems to have an uncertain feeling where the music should head next, which is surprising for a band that includes Burrell and Smith.
Unlike Logan's ESP albums, this quintet tries to play straightahead jazz rather than blowing free, which is part of the problem. While free musicians can take liberties with regard to things like tempo and intonation, that kind of approach just sounds sloppy in this situation. The opening chorus of "Freddie Freeloader" sounds like grade schoolers. The ballad "Around" has a pretty theme, but it's hard to get past the sharpness of Logan's tone. "Bop Dues" offers some hope, with a clever head that comes with a "mop-mop" tag at the end of each phrase. Logan only solos briefly, followed by Lavelle who's trumpet solo has a rough but impressive quality.
Ironically, Logan's take on "Blue Moon," where he plays piano, comes off as one of the stronger pieces on the album, because it proves that something delicate can surface amidst all the rawness of his horn playing. The other piano piece, an original called "Love Me Tonight," almost borders on exploitation. Here Logan sings, clearly frail of voice, betraying a set of bad dental work, if he has any at all. The folks at Tompkins Square might have thought this heartfelt message would close the album on a sweet note, but instead it comes off sounding kind of sad.
I'm glad Logan is alive and doing well and getting to play again. But if he's going to record, he needs to put in a situation that will bring out the best in him. That didn't happen here.