Jazz CD Reviews
Chris Greene Quartet – Merge – Single Malt
Published on February 17, 2010
Chris Greene Quartet – Merge – Single Malt SM004, 77:54 ***1/2:
(Chris Greene – tenor and soprano saxophones, producer; Damian Espinosa – piano and keyboards; Marc Piane – double bass, co-producer; Tyrone Blair – drums and percussion)
Anyone who knows the Chicago jazz scene understands it takes a lot to succeed in the Windy City. A player needs more than chops, a musician must also have a clear sense of jazz history and tradition, value sounds and styles outside the jazz climate, and have the confidence to embrace chances. Saxophonist Chris Greene and his quartet – Damian Espinosa on piano and keyboards, Marc Piane on bass and drummer Tyrone Blair – fit all those requirements and more, which is why they continue to be an important part of the Chicago jazz environment and are becoming more prominent outside the Illinois area.
The third release from the Chris Green Quartet, Merge, is well named. The 77-minute outing fuses jazz standards, pop and hip-hop influences and accessible-inclined original material. The nine mostly mid-tempo tracks employ a good-natured flow that should appeal to listeners who gravitate toward contemporary sounds and appreciate a solid groove alongside fluid jazz improvisation.
The nine-and-a-half minute opener, Greene’s "Good Riddance!," clues listeners into what Merge exemplifies. The cut shows Green’s debt to urban pop personalities such as Michael Jackson and Prince as well as early fusion icons like Miles Davis or Weather Report. The piece is also a responsive example of this group’s impressive musical traits. For instance, Blair’s talent for enlisting a broad range of percussive sounds is revealed as well as his irreproachable application of time and rhythm. Espinosa displays his ability for coloring when he slides in some funky Fender Rhodes and utilizes washed electronics to confer an atmospheric accent. Greene’s sax retains a reflective yet concrete tone.
Another memorable Green composition is the French cinema-inspired "M. Tati," which indicates Greene is a proficient writer of authentic post-bop. The track features some of the album’s finest piano and bass interaction. Espinosa works wonders on acoustic piano while Piane counters Espinosa’s harmonics with aggressive bass notes. The way the two operate in and around each other demonstrates the kind of communication that only comes from playing together on stage and in rehearsals for years.
Greene’s group has become recognized for its interpretations of both standards and pop material. In the past the foursome has deciphered The Police’s alt-rock hit "King of Pain" and Hank Williams’ country classic "You Win Again." On Merge, they funk things up with the Black Eyed Peas’ "L.F.E.I. (Let’s Get It Started)," go straightforward with Billy Strayhorn’s celebrated ballad "Lotus Blossom" and throw a surprising curve ball with their alteration of Madonna’s dance single "Borderline." Of the three, the most fascinating is "L.F.E.I." It is creatively engaging, highlights Green’s resolute sax gifts and Blair’s notable drum and percussion nuances and the ensemble’s expertise in working a groove. Traditionalists are likely to enjoy the Strayhorn translation since the band approaches the beautiful melody with assured restraint and asserts a late-night, lightly swinging vibe. The album-ending "Borderline" makes for an apt closing venture: it combines a soulful wit, offers serious-minded interplay and douses any preconceptions of how someone should or might arrange a post-disco tune.
Chris Greene, Damian Espinosa, Marc Piane and Tyrone Blair have learned a lot about music, not just jazz. It is a vital distinction: as Steve Hashimoto’s informative liner notes state, it is not 1950 and we’re not on 52nd street in New York City anymore. In other words, the ideal modern jazz artist should esteem Parliament-Funkadelic as much as Charlie Parker and find as much insight from a James Brown downbeat as from an Art Blakey hi-hat hit. With Merge, Greene and company supply such a wide-ranging and approachable undertaking.
1. Good Riddance!
2. You’ll Thank Me Later
3. M. Tati
4. L.F.E.I. (Let’s Get It Started)
5. Coffee ‘n’ Scotch
6. Lotus Blossom
7. Out of Nowhere
8. In Confidence
— Doug Simpson