Joshua Breakstone – The Cello Quartet – 88 – Capri

Joshua Breakstone – The Cello Quartet – 88 – Capri 71444-2, 64:31 ****:

Strong playing from a band immersed in a bop-inspired songbook.

(Joshua Breakstone – guitar; Lisle Atkinson – bass; Andy Watson – drums; Mike Richmond – cello )

Joshua Breakstone is an intriguing guitarist of prolific dexterity in the manner of Wes Montgomery. Mind you, which of today’s guitarists, is not of that style? This release, featuring the cello quartet, is built around compositions of some influential bop-styled pianists, with the exception of Breakstone’s own composition with the apropos title: Eighty-Eight.

As pointed out by Breakstone in his brief but helpful liner notes, the guitar and the piano are often though to be incompatible instruments because both are chordal in nature. However, in fact, both are rather similar as they fulfill a dual role: in addition to being rhythm section players, both perform solo functions. Hence Breakstone’s curiosity in bringing together some better and lesser-known compositions by a group of pianists, as a basis for this recital.

Harold Mabern’s admiration for John Coltrane is proclaimed in the opening track “The Chief” with an assertive introduction to the approach of the quartet. After a long chordal rumination by Breakstone, cellist Richmond then chimes in with a plucked solo all done at brisk pace, as drummer Watson keeps the band moving. Breakstone’s single-note style is on full display for several choruses, and then he and drummer Watson develop a series of exchanges that are artfully done.

While some of the numbers included here might not be recognized by many jazz aficionados, that would not apply to Mal Waldon’s “Soul Eyes”. Offered as a soulful and expressive ballad, each of the players invent delicate strands of melody as a ruminative take on the number. Breakstone’s  addition to the session is his composition “Eighty-Eight” and it does not seem to be out of place in the mix. Cellist Richmond is again at the forefront of the number, with a nimble pizzicato solo (for some unknown reason, he does not offer any arco playing throughout the disc). There is also some solid bass work by Lisle Atkinson on the number.   

Tadd Dameron’s influence as a composer in bop mould cannot be overstated. He wrote many compositions, that in fact became part of the standard repertoire of that era. One of his most notable was  “If You Could See Me Now” which he inscribed in 1946 especially for Sarah Vaughan. Breakstone and the band remain faithful to the composer’s intentions with the piece, and give it a lustrous reading.

The final track is “Lennie’s Pennies” written by Lennie Tristano and his guitarist compatriot Billy Bauer. As might be expected it is filled with the intricate lines and compositional juxtapositions with which Tristano was well-known. The band is up to the challenge of the formidable framework of the composition.

TrackList: The Chief; News For Lulu; Black; Soul Eyes; Eighty-Eight; Moe Is On; Lolita; If You Could See Me Now; Lennie’s Pennies

—Pierre Giroux

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