Palmetto Records goes for an old ECM 1980s ambience here in which everybody plays relatively 'in' and there is absolutely no echo anywhere, maybe including inside the piano (some call it the Manfred Eicher sound; nice work here by Matt Balitsaris); equally, there is an abstract expressionist black-on-white squiggle on the CD cover, and the quartet consists of some recent heavies on the Thirsty Ear "Blue" series of recordings like Craig Taborn (piano) and Michael Formanek (bass). Percussionist Bill Drummond spends a lot of time on his cymbals, and leader Ehrlich has some of Jan Garbarek's sense of the tonal curve. And yes, there is a certain dependence on late 19th/ early 20th century impressionists such as Claude Debussy in the soloing and the melodies (all by Ehrlich). But even if you were not a big fan of ECM's "the music that is inherent in silence" period (and I confess I was until somebody lent me the London Jazz Composers Orchestra's THREE PIECES),
LINE ON LOVE still retains a definitive immediacy that makes it one of the standout sax/bass/piano/drums quartet dates I've heard this year. Taborn is in reflective mode nearly throughout and thus occupies the tonal springboard off of which most of the others cue. The opening "Hymn" (yeah, I know, but no other cliches here) has a lengthy intro from him, modulations sculpted like fluting on classical Greek architecture, and when Drummond's cymbals kick in, heralding Ehrlich on alto, I did for a moment get impatient in an "I've heard this before" kind of way. But I haven't, not really, and what caught me first (recalling that it does help to listen to the CD before panning it) was how Ehrlich's tone doesn't have and never has had Garbarek's cottony envelope; rather, his delicacy is derived more from Lee Konitz than certain dead white Northern European males (Garbarek not included, by the way).
Ehrlich does not stun with technique, he does not have to have it all his own way, note the gracious manner in which he duets on bass clarinet with Formanek in the tour de force "Solace" -- again, yeah, I know, just forget the titles if they bother you that much). Rather, he builds his house carefully on scraps of lumber left behind by the previous generation of giants. Note "Like I Said," in which Taborn bops hard a la Kenny Kirkland and Ehrlich's delicious head melody recalls Woody Shaw's "Time Is Right" (from his Columbia LP, FOR SURE! ...Miss ya, Woody). It cooks with gas, but not in a sweaty fashion. "Turn Circle and Spin" opens with a continuo (I think) for Drummond and Ehrlich in which the latter does some moderate wigging
but not enough to frighten the horses. Especially cool here is the manner in which Taborn contributes, making the piece a minuet of sorts upon his entry. Formanek's lengthy outrage here is fleet of hand and on point too. "St.Louis Summer" has Drummond doing a flatfooted Al Foster kind of vibe with a lengthy serpentine hook floating above, Taborn even digging deep for some R&B changes as Ehrlich roughs up his tone and borrows a move or two from Illinois Jacquet. Fine, subtle work by all, and a very well-rounded view of recent jazz history, updated to right now.
by Kenneth Egbert
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