Purists who don't like to see critics erecting barriers will carp at this but I do agree with those who say there's an "urban school" of Jazz arranging: busy, hard-swinging, melodic, detailed, eyes open, all ahead full, even in the ballads. Duke Ellington comes to mind when I consider this, as well as Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Bill Kirchner, Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, Claude Thornhill, well, you get it. And so does Jim Cifelli, whose New York Nonet will fit into the above company nicely.
TUNNEL VISION features cantilevered horn charts that dip and flip ("Go"), small subgroups of instruments leaping under and through others (a stellar rearrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and "Speak No Evil"), and (of course) hushed moments in which there is a space created for contemplation: did I hear what I think I heard, and what can it mean? ("Something She Said.") A Cifelli original, this ditty is evident of what is so good about this small group. Taking a minor tonal patch off Miles Davis' classic "So What," Cifelli bases this tune on similar chords but as if to say, "What if?" Barbara Cifelli's votive flute opens it under Tim Horner's exquisite working-out on the cymbals, and once the chords parallel to Miles' appear a nervous if tranquil horn chart slips through, and it nearly speaks English. Classic, girls and boys. A more straight-ahead arrangement of the Cole Porter evergreen "What is This Thing Called Love?" does not employ, say, the widescreen approach of Mingus in which he had several instruments moving within the chords of the tune while also strongly referring to other related-chord standards ("Hot House" was one of them, pardon my failing memory) but rather with a sunnier tack. It is a springtime weekend noon and the question lingers at the back of your mind but not right now, thanks, you are with your honey and there are no shadows anywhere. Well, not right now.
Kudos to Mary Ann McSweeney for a hot-plucked bass break, Barbara C. recalling Glenn Wilson favorably on the baritone, and Andy Gravish' trumpet statement which has nary a care in the world. A natty Latin workout ("Cambio de Corazon") features Cliff Lyon's sophisticated alto sax, but I do want to comment on the aforementioned Shorter medley. It's not just Pete McCann's spiky guitar break that puts this double-up over, it's Cifelli's understanding of Shorter's melodies on a near molecular level: Iíve always thought that Wayne S. knows what to leave out to give his melodies a haunting, unfinished quality, even in a more up-tempo situation as this one. Like the head to "Water Babies," these tunes here have a Monkish group of chords filtered through a Debussy-like prism. The eyebrow cocks, a door opens in your head. And you're better for that door having been unlocked. Even in New York. Joel Frahm's tenor break, agilely surfing a la early 'Trane on a wave of McCan chording, is a special treat as well. McCann deserves a nod for doing double duty playing the piano parts as well. Very cool. Trombonist Peter McGuinness contributes "Cajun Conniption," which tosses some New Orleans Dixieland gumbo into the mix early on but quickly hops the Amtrak for you already know where.
TUNNEL VISION is a CD which like any urban scene requires close attention and repeated listenings.
by Ken Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive
Copyright Jazz Now, May 2003 issue, all rights reserved