Was very pleased to get this in the mail as I've long been a fan of Swallow's muscular, spare upright bass work (all the way back when he was with the Gary Burton group in their ECM days), and also given how I favorably recall Greg Tardy's clarinet from some of Dave Douglas' bands. Putting this on and hearing the first tune "Making Ends Meet"'s witty rearrangement of a blues melody a la Virgil Thomson, I still wasn't fully of a mind to take in what a tour de force L'HISTOIRE would be. See, it suddenly occurred that I wasn't hearing a trap kit. Or any percussion. Anywhere. Letting the pulse float as Swallow and tenor whiz Talmor do on these seven 'compositions' (a compliment!), the massed choir of Tardy, Talmor, Swallow (mostly leaning on the bow), Meg Okura (violin), Russ Johnson (trumpet) and Jacob Garchik (trombone) have the unenviable job of implying the beat while singing the charts (all by Talmor, though Swallow composed). And 'imply' is the word. This CD is a master class in advanced post-freebop harmonies, rooted in familiar sonic material (there's a deconstructed samba here, a nod to the late Gil Evans albeit transposed across vast distances, and lots more) but stated and through-composed with masterful sophistication. Think JJ Johnson's "Three Little Feelings," Fred Tompkins' recent mini-orchestral works, James Newton writing for massed flutes, or Ornette Coleman's chamber writing. It's that good, that absorbing, and you will thank CD technology's lucky stars that CDs are very hard to wear out. Yeah, some of you may well be sniffing "'Chamber Jazz'? Tuxedos and instrument cases filing into Lincoln Center? Nah, gimme that down and dirty." Maybe you should go read another review. Even my old stone critic's heart may have withstood a crack at the sound of "Some Echoes," a confluence of tones and regret with a long open-horned Johnson lament which, in its totality, stole a march on the Duke's "Solitude." You've been there: walking down streets you vaguely remember when a patch of masonry catches your eye and you recall standing nearby there long before with somebody else, now long lost for some reason or other. Here's that feeling again. Exactly as you remember it. "Chelsea Bells" is a different day and a different street: a certain saunter, Okura's fiddle making the rounds through the chuckling horns (Garchik gets most of the lead duty herein. Clever!). Equally essential .
For those of you who wonder exactly what a deconstructed samba might sound like, stop off at "Ladies in Mercedes" (this is a very 'urban' Jazz, as much as it is urbane): Tardy slips back towards Benny Goodman's vocabulary while Talmor, Johnson and Garchik imitate car horns (that must be the women of the title taking a turn onto Sixth Avenue) and Swallow switches to picked bop phrasings. Marvelous how he subsumes himself into the field of hornplay, but this is a man who held his own against the great Eberhard Weber in Gary Burton's double-bass quintet album PASSENGERS on ECM some decades ago. The 'samba' structure in "Ladies" is only nodded to in the beginning of this ditty, but a sunny insouciance remains throughout (it might be Okura's ukulele-like plucking), and don't ask me how they manage. I couldn't put it into words.
Yes, I could see this lot being played at Avery Fisher Hall, but don't go telling me nothing good ever came out of that building, because you'd be inaccurate. L'HISTOIRE DU CLOCHARD is a postmodernist (not exactly a 'downtown') reimagining of our recent urban Jazz heritage, and as delightful a recording as I've heard all year. Skip lunch if you have to, get this.
by Kenneth Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive November 2004 Vol 14 No. 7 - Table of Contents
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