'The Tradition,' take the meaning of that as you will, gets a worthy extension and refinement in Mr. Altmann's fivesome. There are those who think that the Miles Davis Quintet of 1963-69 went as far with 'The Tradition' (say, all those Prestige, Milestone and Blue Note bop albums that appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, to give us a rounded understanding) as it was possible to go. Others prefer Wynton Marsalis' version of the facts, on display at Lincoln Center. And then there are the other opinions (Ornette Coleman as savior of the form by rewriting the rules, David Murray's circling back, Arthur Blythe's Cliff Notes approach, etc.). For me, the tradition of those small groups and that era only retains its necessity if the form is both respected and expanded, each with similar care. The two needn't be 50-50; like everything else, as Duke once put it, "if it sounds good, it is good." And this sounds good. Real good. Guitarist Altmann (often soloing at a perpendicular angle to the well-crafted melodies he's written) and crew (Aaron Sherwood, tenor saxophone; Adam Maness, piano; John Davis, bass; Nick Collins, drums; with Dan Blankenship guesting on several tracks) draw out some of the modal extrapolations of the Davis quintet and add a slightly more 'out' feature or two from Coltrane just as he was starting his trip over the line. More essential a combination than it might sound. Maness 'chimes' more than 'bops' so you might be more disposed to think McCoy than Herbie, but note the precisely cadenced opening he gives the dreamy "Ninni" and you'll catch an impressionist feel as well; throughout the quintet speaks of a compositional neatness, everything in its place (even on the wiggy "Infernal Dance of the Firebird," which isn't as indebted to Igor as one might assume); If you winced when you heard some genius refer to Jazz as "America's classical music," this CD may not be your thing, but hey, sometimes I put on Ayler in the morning to brush my teeth to (when my kids haven't removed the electrical fuse in the basement for the living room) and I frankly can't say enough positive about 382 CENTRAL PARK WEST. Here recorded live at the New School before a properly appreciative audience, the band expertly shifts up and down among generally more contemplative tempos. Sherwood's finely rounded tenor heats things up anyway but carefully, especially on the witty "When Will The Blues Leave," and Blankenship's open-horned statement on this same piece has a well-thought-out neutral drive. Makes me remember Woody Shaw fondly, and it's been too long. Finally, the rhythm section catch any ball in any part of the field and do not bobble.
Does this quintet make it all sound too easy? If you were not paying attention you might think so. But look at the sidewalk construction shelters on the cover of this CD and you'll be reminded that 'the tradition' is not a hard and fast definition out of Webster's. It is, as Altmann and bandmates keep reminding us, always under construction.
by Kenneth Egbert
Copyright Jazz Now, April 2004 issue, all rights reserved
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