We all remember the golden continuum of the Miles Davis Quintet of
1964-68, that tonal moment in time that to this day seems nearly unparalleled in the thoughts of certain Jazzbos who really did and do want Jazz to be (here I come with that one again) 'America's Classical Music.' Of course that bespeaks any number of cultural signifiers which would have been laughable in the proto-honky tonks of the turn of the century, or even back when if one were 'having relations' with one possibly not one's spouse one could be said to be 'Jazzing' them. But let's talk about Mr. Vaughan-Lee's delightful CD instead.
BORROWED TIME does smack now and again of those obtuse-angled melodies we recall from MILES IN THE SKY or NEFERTITI, but it also exhibits the calm, deep Debussy-like intelligence of Herbie Hancock's 1960s Blue Note recordings and the odd filigree of middle-period Tyner piano vamp-driven melody. Enough name-dropping. What's amazing about this CD is how the music's attitude has me wondering if I have actually never heard anything like it before and all that other music I just mentioned is actually just a product of my imagination.
Clearly that is not the case! But BORROWED TIME has an air of 'newness' about it, rather as if it were. Get somebody from the New School's music department in NYC or the Berklee in Boston to explain it to you. I'm just delivering the news here. The title composition, a measured, deep-sounding trolling of the spirit on some level I can't pinpoint, is built on thoughtful piano chords from Al Sanz and a horn melody overlay that makes a very specific statement in a language only partially understood. I think that the best art either allows us or forces us to interpret. Depending on our sense of need or want to participate. Because to interpret is to participate. And saxophonist Mark Turner (look for his mellifluous and rewarding CD on Warners, DHARMA DAYS) will give one plenty to divine. Possessed of a smooth alto-like tenor tone, Turner's playing here (such as 'Ginny's Place' - you'll wish you knew where it was and who to call for reservations) is nowhere as abstract as on DHARMA; don't read 'noisy' or 'free' there, the man just has different thought processes. Vaughan-Lee and fellow composers Ferenc Nemeth (drums), Sanz and trum-peter Erik Jekabson's pieces also showcase his quieter, more reflective side. Tempos vary not a lot on BORROWED, about from 'largo' to 'mildly brisk,' but the cocked eyebrows of this music (including a meditative cover of Sting's "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets") intrigue and disarm the listener again and again. Vaughan-Lee himself fills the bass chair with little room left over. He's busy but articulate and somehow this recording is mixed so you can clearly hear his every note. Wish that happened more often! His dialogues with Turner on the last-up Ellington chestnut "Low Key Lightly" are just the right way to close out the re-cording. I did want to mention the first track here, "Bella," a searching theme given flight by Jekabson's lengthy break early on, but largely because it showcases the highly propulsive Nemeth. Frankly on this piece and on his drum break under Sanz' changeable ostinato in the title tune Nemeth plays maybe twice the notes required but it hardly seems to matter. He is his own man on the tubs and I can't explain quite why.
But then this entire CD lands somewhere I did not entirely know was there until it came along. That's another thing about great music. After hearing it we arrive, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, someplace we only thought we recognized. You will wear this one out!
by Kenneth Egbert