A pair of new TUM Records titles explore the artistry of two dearly departed legends
While any musical style should have a feel for its history, jazz musicians seem particularly aware and indebted to their progenitors.
And unfortunately, with the genre’s long and rich history, many legends have passed in recent years. As listeners though, we are blessed to hear the modern masters carrying on the tradition while honoring their influences.
The year 2022 kicked off with two such albums dedicated to those who came before. First up we have Ode to O by The OGJB Quartet. Consisting of Oliver Lake on alto and soprano saxophones, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics, Joe Fonda on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums, the group is top-heavy with modern heavyweights. They released their first quartet album Bamako in 2019 and instantly became a well-respected ensemble. Ode to O is their second release and is named after Altschul’s opening piece which is dedicated to the late Ornette Coleman.
The group’s lineup seems appropriate, echoing Ornette’s legendary piano-less quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell. The OGJB Quartet is similarly outfitted and experiences the same degree of rhythmic drive and harmonic freedom as their predecessor. The first two pieces, “Ode to O” and “Justice” find them operating powerfully in this mode. The horns play in loose unison, stating a wonderful theme before each wanders off to solo. The title track shows Haynes taking the first solo, proceeding at a measured pace and making every moment count. When Lake follows, he brings just a bit more edge with him, yet he too displays a great melodic efficiency. Meanwhile, despite the free nature of the music, Fonda and Altschul make the music swing. “Justice” utilizes a similar template, but it is both darker and more intense.
From here the group begins to stylistically expand. “The Me Without Bella” still features the loose, unison horn lines but the rhythm section sinks into abstraction and any sense of a pulse is pulled back. Fonda utilizes a bow for much of the piece and Altschul interjects percussion as he sees fit. “Da Bang” consists of a drum solo for the first third before the band joins in for a powerful avant-groove.
“The Other Side” and “OGJB #3_44-24” bring another important element into the mix. These pieces are more abstract like “The Me Without Bella”, but where that piece felt minimalist “The Other Side” is much denser and Haynes adds to this feel immensely with his electronics. These effects took center stage in his collaborative album with Submerged last year, “Echolocation”. While the electronics are less present on this album, they help to shape the identity of this piece. Haynes molds the sound of his cornet into clouds of static filling out the sonic field. “OGJB #3_44-24” alternates between the minimalist and maximalist approaches, but Haynes once again gives the piece its identity. His use of electronic manipulation seems like a worthy successor to Miles Davis’s own electrification.
The album culminates with “Apaxionado”, a powerful piece that feels a bit like a lament or even a requiem. The opening theme is more reminiscent of Albert and Donald Ayler rather than Coleman and Cherry, but like the rest of the album, these musicians make everything their own. This is a masterclass in improvising and a beautiful piece of music regardless of genre.
If The OGJB Quartet mirrored Ornette’s most famous ensemble, the trio of drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist William Parker, and trumpeter Enrico Rava took a different approach to honor their mentor, the legendary Cecil Taylor. Both groups are piano-less but considering that was Taylor’s instrument the Cyrille/Parker/Rava trio honored his legacy via the instrument’s absence. All three played for Taylor, and in the case of Andrew Cyrille and William Parker, their tenure with the pioneer was quite extensive.
Enrico Rava has always been an economical player, but his playing on this album is particularly measured. Even on the free-form group improvisation which opens the recording, he is lyrical despite the avant-garde material. He says a lot with his trumpet without overplaying. This leaves the identity of each piece in the capable hands of Parker and Cyrille. Their approach to each song defines the listening experience.
Take the second track “Ballerina” for instance. Upbeat despite the free meter, the bass and drums lock in a nimble dance, with Parker mirroring the toms at times and then the cymbal work at others. This creates a fabulous push-and-pull dynamic while Rava’s trumpet glides over the top. It seems to echo both the grace and physicality of a ballet dancer.
Perhaps even more impressive are the two “blues” pieces that give the album its name. Here, the trio extracts the soul of the blues without adhering to the song form as closely as most. Cyrille and Parker slink and slide through their interpretation, eschewing any cliche but retaining the genre’s hypnotic power. Rava remains lyrical but also slurs and stabs his lines, once again capturing heaps of emotion. “Blues for Cecil No. 1” shifts in and out of various tempos but the trio never become untethered from one another. “Blues for Cecil No. 2” begins with a more traditional approach, but as the song progresses, you can feel the musicians letting their improvisations pull them further away from standard structures. By the time Parker solos, it is evident they are hitting the changes at their own pace, yet still finding each other in all the right moments.
Cyrille, Parker, and Rava close the album with the same magic. They perform a startling, if not somewhat truncated version of “My Funny Valentine”. Once again, this is one of the more unusual takes on the classic tune most listeners will encounter. Rava moves in and out of the melody, really bringing to life the almost whispered, conversational feel of the notes. Parker and Cyrille create a powerful soundscape beneath. They sound like rain falling on asphalt, it’s hard to know how else to describe it. At just barely over three minutes, the track is a slice of perfection. Nothing needs added, nothing needs to be taken away.
Many outsiders unfairly dismiss avant-garde jazz as an undifferentiated caterwaul, or conversely, so introverted that there is little for the listener to grab onto. These criticisms are unfounded, and these two records stand as a beautiful refutation of such complaints. While these musicians sidestep the conventional at every given opportunity, the music remains accessible, and its more challenging aspects only pull the listener in deeper into the experience.
Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor were immense figures who laid the groundwork for everything we are hearing on Ode to O and “2 Blues for Cecil”. Make no mistake though, these musicians have taken the legacy they have inherited and made it their own.
The OGJB Quartet illustrates what can be done with Coleman’s most famous instrumental format, while Cecil Taylor haunts the album by Cyrille, Parker, and Rava, his piano left to the imagination of the listener.