A High-Voltage Triple Live Album and a Crown Heights Gig by Tenor Sax Titan George Garzone
Tenor saxophonist George Garzone is best known as the founder of the Fringe, one of the greatest and most improvisationally ambitious chordless trios in the history of jazz. He’s iconic in his native Boston, his most recent album was recorded in Los Angeles, and he’s coming to New York for a sexet gig at Bar Bayeux in Crown Heights tonight, Feb 19 at 8 PM with Neta Raanan also on tenor sax, Joe Melnicove on flute, Chris Crocco on guitar, Tyrone Allen on bass and Francisco Mela on drums.
That record, 3 Nights in L.A. – streaming at Spotify – is a lavish, solo-centric triple live album featuring Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums.
In this age of short attention spans interrupted even further by distractions from the magic rectangle, who on earth would listen to a triple live album, let alone one with three different eleven-minute versions of Have You Met Miss Jones? People who like party music…and conversational camaraderie, and good solos. Garzone’s misty, easygoing one to open the shuffling first take doesn’t hint at where the song’s going to go, either that night or the next, from Pasqua’s practically motorik drive to Erskine’s vaudevillian cheer. Night two’s version is a lot louder and edgier, Garzone pushing further outside, Pasqua digging hard into some deliciously allusive modalities, Oles playing class clown this time. They pick up the pace even further but play more sparely to close their three-night stand with it.
There are also two takes of The Honeymoon here: the first night’s with a blues-infused gravitas, the second’s a darkly shimmering gem with its sharp focus. Throughout the record, Garzone’s ability to shift seamlessly between sound worlds – whether lyrically spiraling and pirouetting within the idiom, or wailing, honking and stabbing to the fringes – is in peak form. And the band match his boundless energy.
The first disc also has a pointillistically racewalking All the Things You Are, with a stunningly uneasy, chiming outro, contrasting with a slow majestically gleaming Michael Brecker dedication. Likewise, the floating swing of Twelve is balanced by dark-tinged solo adventure, Without looking back, the band charge through I Hear a Rhapsody and follow with the most epic number of the entire weekend, the rivetingly uneasy clave ballad Tutti Italiani. With lingerine echoes of Brubeck and Ellington and simmering solos from Garzone and Pasqua, it’s the highlight of the album.
The quartet kick off disc two with a genially shuffling Like Someone in Love, take the simmer up a notch with Invitation, then bring it down with I Want to Talk About You, going from hazily warm to more mutedly opaque when the bass follows Garzone’s long opening statement. The briskly floating swing of Hey Open Up makes a good segue up to the point where the bass and drums bring the heat up again; then they take their time with a shadowy, suspenseful take of Agridolce.
They kick off the final night with a strutting, samba-tinged slink in I Remember April, but that turns to dusky majesty midway through and reaches a ravishingly hushed peak in Equinox, all the way down to a spacious, deep-space bass solo for Pasqua to finally spiral triumphantly out of.
Tender solos permeate the low-key latin allusions of To My Papa, followed by the ebullient straight-up swing of It Will Happen to You. Sky Shines on an August Sunday is the most slowly unwinding number here, a long launching pad for wide-angle expression from Pasqua and Garzone. Goes to show how much life and unexpected entertainment a bunch of smart vets can get out of a handful of mostly well-worn standards.