John Clark – The Odd Couple Quintet + 1 – Composers Concordance
Mark Taylor – Quiet Land – Mapleshade

John Clark – The Odd Couple Quintet + 1 – Composers Concordance comcon0022 ****:

Mark Taylor – Quiet Land – [TrackList follows] – Mapleshade 05232 (1997) ****:

(JOHN CLARK QUINTET: John Clark, French horn; Freddie Bryant, guitar; Mark Egan, bass; Abe Fogle, drums; Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Pete Levin, keyboards)

(MARK TAYLOR QUINTET: Mark Taylor, French horn; Myra Melford, piano; Fred Hopkins, bass; Steve Berrios, drums; Warren Smith, percussion)

The French horn (and the bassoon) are certainly not regarded as mainstream jazz instruments. It is extremely difficult to play jazz on the French horn, and it’s not even easy playing classical music. There have been a few pioneers on the instrument: Julius Watkins, John Graas, David Amram and Willie Ruff. John Clark saw the French horn as a challenge when his band director handed it to him. He ended up with an M.A. from the New England Conservatory of Music and played French horn with Gil Evans for many years.

Three years ago he had the opportunity to form a band for a festival, and he thought of bassoon soloist Richael Rainbowitz, who is the only fulltime jazz bassoonist in the business. Clark said “Since the French horn and the bassoon go well together I wanted to team up with him.”

After “The Odd Couple” Quintet Theme (originally by Neal Hefti), we hear Clark’s adaptations of Mozart’s Horn Concertos Nos. 3 & 4, which – with their rich melodies – are easier to adapt to jazz that some other classical works. The interpretations have a lot of interplay between the horn and the bassoon. The original by Clark, “Corporations Are Not People,” is a rockish blues with a number of strong solos from the various septet members.

A throughly enjoyable outing with an instrument that should get more attention in the jazz world.

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Mark Taylor doesn’t imitate any of the fathers of jazz French horn.  Pierre Sprey, owner of the Mapleshade label and jazz fan, says his love affair with jazz French horn started with Willie Ruff’s deeply mellow sound in the Mitchell-Ruff duo (and so did mine).  He also mentions Robert Northern’s classically-flavored French horn on Monk’s At Town Hall and John Coltrane’s Africa Brass. Taylor has played in some of the most innovative free jazz groups, including Lester Bowie and Muhal Richard Abram’s big band. And he’s a remarkable arranger and composer, creating Copland-like serene ballads of subtle free jazz. There’s also a lot his wit in the music.

Being the only brass instrument whose bell points away from listeners, the French horn is difficult to record. Much of its sound is reflected to listeners from the wall behind the player. Pierre and Mark did a lot a experimenting with mics and reflectors in making this recording. They had a delicate balancing act due to the two vocalists on the session. The doublebass of Fred Hopkins was also a challenge; Pierre had to use a different mic for the bowed parts than he usually uses for plucked bass.

The closing one of the 11 tracks is the title tune and it features the pennywhistle, which was purchased at the local music store just in time to record the tune.  An enjoyable CD even if you don’t generally like free jazz, and most beautiful sonic-wise.

TrackList:

Lullabye; Triologue; Osmium Zamindar’s Utimely Arrival; Kennebrew’s Dance; Improvisation #2; Black Crow; Sleep Now…I Will Watch; Quondam (That Which Was); Timefield; Do You Dream…Of These?; QuietLand

—John Henry

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