Reference: FSRCD 5128
Bar code: 8427328651288
Available from September, 26th
One thing that thrills me about this band is that each memberis not only a master of their instrument and has an incredible copasetic sense of playing and improvising within the group, but they’re also innovators with distinct voices and personalities on their respective instruments. Almost every song on this album was written with Noah, Leo and Kim in mind. Most of this music was also written during the Covid 19 pandemic shut down. In September 2021, we were fortunate enough to do a tour in the US that was funded by the Jazz Road Tour grant by South Arts. Much of the music on this album was performed and developed during that tour. It was a great gift to travel and perform after being locked down for over a year giving us a taste of touring life before Covid.
“Mr KC” is a piece I wrote for Kim Cass. Knowing that Kim can play harmonics on the bass like no one else I have ever heard, I wrote a melody to be played only using harmonics. “Gary Song” is inspired by the Cameroonian Bikutsi music we listened to on our tour and named after a new friend we met on the tour. Spring of 2021 inspired “Meeting of the Tulips” and “Vernal”. “Dark Blue Horse Power” and “Stretch” are compositions inspired by the power, intensity and endless creativity that I hear coming from my bandmates. “Natural Bounce” 1, 2 and 3 are short drum solo improvisations incorporating the natural rhythm of a dropped stick bouncing.“A Flower for Diana, Part 2” and “Sweet Joe” are tunes I wrote dedicated to my loving and supportive parents who have passed on.
As performers, each track documents a short musical adventure. I invite listeners to take in the sounds with an adventurous mindset, and I hope the music will challenge, elate and inspire.
With love, Rob Garcia
"In the modern jazz world, where one’s artistic quality is often judged by how good their publicity machine is, which in turns leads to their winning meaningless “awards” for their “brilliance,” it’s refreshing to run across musicians like these. Every one of these four players are highly creative and have something to say, they do it without patting themselves on the back for being geniuses or including ostentatiously posed photos of themselves in the booklet. They just play, and what comes out is interesting because they are serious, committed artists.
I’ve heard some of Kim Cass’ work before and been impressed, and to a certain extent tenor saxist Noah Preminger and I are pen pals, my having reviewed a few of his records over the past several years and been impressed by all of them. Here, surprisingly, his playing is just a bit more reined-in than in his own CDs—possibly a restriction caused by the written parts of these compositions—but when he cuts loose he’s Noah Preminger, all right, a marvelous player who not only combines inside and outside jazz in his solos but always has something cohesive to say. Cass is his usual understated but brilliant self on bass, and drummer-composer Garcia brings a varied touch to his playing that I found refreshing. He somehow manages to both keep the pulse going and embellish it. Most modern jazz drummers are great at playing varied betas and meters, but not so good at realizing that the music needs to have a recognizable rhythmic direction.
I had heard of Leo Genovese before but, somehow, had never heard him before. If anything, he is the most consistently interesting soloist on this particular album. His playing is extremely fluent, often moving into double time, but never sounding rushed. On the contrary, he, like Preminger, is cogent and clear in his musical narrative if somewhat more flowery in style. In Meeting of the Tulips, in fact, Genovese’s brilliant solo seems to push Preminger to even more remarkable playing than on the first track, and in his solo there’s a remarkable passage where he slips into 3 (or possibly 6/8, since the basic pulse is maintained) for a few bars, and the rhythm section follows him there. A written passage? Possibly, but I don’t know this for certain.
Gary Song is a departure from the first two tracks, using a 10-note motif with the note values distributed unusually within each two-bar cell by the pianist before eventually settling into a somewhat straight 4 although Cass plays yet another unusual metric division of the time underneath the others. Needless to say, such seasoned and brilliant musicians as these fall into this unusual metric division easily, Preminger in particular soaring across the bar lines in his solo, giving the music his usual strong emotional edge. Genovese, as usual, is cool yet brilliant. His style of playing is difficult to describe, but it seems to me to combine the rhythmic and harmonic brilliance of Jaki Byard (there’s a name too few jazz lovers know!) with a bit of McCoy Tyner and a touch of Lalo Schifrin. And that’s about as close as I can come to describing it in words.
Indeed, this entire album is so good that after a while you stop trying to analyze what they’re playing, or categorize it, and just relax and enjoy every moment of this disc. Even when Garcia, the nominal leader of this group, opens up Natural Bounce 1 with an extended drum solo, you’re no longer surprised at just how brilliant this solo is—flashy but not monotonously so. Garcia isn’t trying to dazzle you with Buddy Rich-isms, but rather varying the beat in subtle and intricate ways despite the speed at which he plays it. And interestingly, once Preminger enters and the tune itself begins, it settles into a relaxed medium-tempo 4 of a type that has all but vanished from jazz.
Knowing what great improvisers Preminger and Genovese are, it’s difficult for me, without the scores, to tell how much or what part of these pieces are written out and which ones improvised since nearly everything they play sounds improvised even when it probably isn’t, but that in itself is a compliment to Garcia’s skills as composer-arranger. He obviously picked these specific musicians for this recording because he knew how good they were and possibly wanted listeners to not know (or even care) which parts of each piece were composed beforehand. and in the end it doesn’t really matter. One of the great joys of listening to the old Dave Brubeck Quartet was that Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Eugene Wright were so perfectly attuned to one another that they could almost read each other’s minds as they played, and you get the same feeling listening to this quartet.
A very few pieces on this album, i.e. Vernal, struck me as somewhat conventional. This doesn’t mean, however, that they’re uninteresting, only that they somehow remind you of older tunes though they are not. In Vernal, as it turns out, things get really interesting once Preminger really opens up on his tenor; for once, Genovese is content to underplay a little. And this somewhat conventional piece is followed by the unusual Overbalance, which resembles a Latin tune with asymmetric rhythmic division. Genovese makes up for his slight reticence on the previous track by producing an absolutely mind-blowing solo that almost sounds like Cecil Taylor but with structure and musical focus. Following this, Cass immediately jumps into a fast 4 behind Preminger, and Garcia’s drums, as usual, are excellent throughout.
Even a piece like Natural Bounce 2, in which the percussion section (drums and bass) tend to dominate the proceedings and the thematic material is minimal, there is great invention going —here, especially, in Cass’ outstanding bass solo. But every track has its extraordinary moments. Sweet Joe is another throwback piece, but exactly the kind of jazz you never hear anymore, a real tune that the ear can follow and remember without it sounding trite or treacly. Brubeck and Bill Evans used to write tunes like this, as of course did Vince Guaraldi, and the jazz critics of that time didn’t criticize them for creating melodies that stick with you. Preminger eschews his usual adventurousness here for a more economical style of playing, sounding a bit like Sonny Rollins in ballad mode, and it works.
One thing I particularly liked about Garcia’s compositions is that so many of them are creative and unusual but they don’t try to do too much. There’s a bad tendency nowadays for jazz composers to overreach, yet as unusual and unorthodox as some of these piece are (such as Stretch), he neither insults the listener with a complex mind nor the average listener who may have trouble grasping really outré musical structures. And there’s something to be said for the relaxed, casual way each of these four musicians play. Their solo and group improvisations are all interesting and impressive without trying to force the issue.
I’m going to make a prediction: most of the mainstream jazz press (Down Beat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, All About Jazz, etc.) will either ignore this album or give it faint praise. It will not be one of their top 10 albums of the year, nor will it be nominated for a Grammy. Why? Because the music doesn’t fit a specific niche. It’s not in one of the prescribed jazz styles considered hip nowadays. Oh, yes, one or two other reviewers besides me will give it a great review, but not enough to give it the push it deserves.
But I am telling you: if you like jazz, you absolutely must have this album. It’s that good. Had this been released on Verve, Prestige or Blue Note back in the old days, the critics would be drooling over it, not because the music here is retro but just the opposite, it’s innovative but not abrasive. In fact, there are moments, such as during Preminger’s solo on Natural Bounce 2, when I suddenly thought of the old Ornette Coleman Quartet (particularly since Genovese sits this one out; the old Coleman quartet had no piano). I found myself hanging onto every solo in this album and then some, and you will be, too."
—Lynn René Bayley (September, 2023)
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