Friday, May 09, 2014

CD Review: Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Seen

Eric Revis Quartet
In Memory of Things Yet Seen
(Clean Feed)

So far, two of the year's strongest albums have come from bassist-leaders. First there was Jason Roebke's High/Red/Center (Delmark) and now Eric Revis' adventurous In Memory of Things Yet Seen. Revis seems especially noteworthy because he maintains a spot in one of the most prestigious mainstream jazz bands (Branford Marsalis' quartet) while, on his own, he heads in a more avant-garde direction, full of adventure and exploration. (For the record, he also plays with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and is part of the cooperative group Tarbaby.)

On this album, he brings both worlds together, by having Marsalis join the quartet for two tracks - one of them being a free improvisation. The rest of the album features the bassist leading alto saxophonist Darius Jones (a wild player in his own right), tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry (who can either maintain solid ground or leave it, and does both here) and drummer Chad Taylor (an extremely inventive percussionist who has played with bands from Chicago and New York too numerous to mention).

Revis wrote the majority of the album's 13 tracks, but everyone in the quartet also gets a chance to contribute at least one composition. Three tracks come from different sections of the bassist's "The Tulpa Chronicles." Spread throughout the album, these brief segments create a tone poem with soothing, droning vibes, offer reedy counterpoint and riff over a bowed bass line, in that respective order. Jones might be expected to deliver one of the wilder pieces, outside of the group improvs, but "Hold My Snow Cone" sounds rather restrained, a steady beat on the snare framing an intriguing mood that sounds somewhere between a soul slow jam and indie rock.

Along with the originals, Revis makes some sharp choices for covers. Sunny Murray's "Somethin's Cookin'" is not as shambolic as might be expected, thought it swings freely with a some solid bass underpinning it. Sun Ra's "The Shadow World," on the other hand, gets really wild and free, with a fiery sense pushing it along. If only Branford joined them for this one.

Marsalis does blend right in with the quartet, though. "FreeB" the five-piece blast of spontaneity, lasts just over two-and-a-half minutes but doesn't waste any time. Methinks the guest is the one blowing long tones underneath the other horns. In some ways, its brevity makes it seem more like a warm-up, but that also keeps it in line with the other tracks, most of which last under four minutes. Marsalis' other appearance, ironically called "Unknown," almost sounds like hard bop initially, but the saxophone solos, especially Jones' fiercely melodic contribution, aren't tethered to changes and play loose with the rhythm section. The coda riff, which gives Taylor a brief chance to stretch out, sounds like the kind of groove that would get an audience screaming their approval.

Then again, that reaction could happen during nearly all of the tunes on this album.

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