When beauty is paramount…

Andy Zimmerman – Half Light – Newvelle Records NV014LP – Audiophile Vinyl – ****1/2

(Andy Zimmerman – tenor sax; Dave Douglas – trumpet – Kevin Hays – piano; Matt Penman – bass)

Newvelle Records continues their third season of subscription audiophile vinyl releases with tenor saxophonist, Andy Zimmerman, and his drummer less quartet. Half Light, has a consistent theme of romantic lyrical explorations. Newvelle has a vision of letting their artists follow a path of complete freedom. Standards can be reintroduced, but it is with a fresh open mind. Here, Zimmerman explores lyrical beauty without the ballast and underpinning of a drummer. Bassist, Matt Penman, provides the bottom end with panache and full involvement, much like Scott LaFaro provided for Bill Evans.

Dave Douglas, on trumpet, both provides a blending partner as well as a burnished soloist, often times with a mute. Pianist, Kevin Hays, using the same Fazioli piano as did Jack DeJohnette, on a previous sumptuous Newvelle release, is front and center with  sparkling choruses that both support and invigorate the front line horns. I can’t emphasize enough the stunning acoustics captured by Marc Urselli at East Side Sound in New York City. Marc has set a standard of putting the listener in the studio. There were times listening to this album, when I flinched in my seat as a bass note or a piano key strike penetrated into my chest, an audiophile wake-up call.

Zimmerman’s tenor stylings emphasize lyrical beauty with a breathy airiness that brings to mind Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, and even Johnny Hodges with its sensuous warmth. Strings are often needed to convey a classical/jazz mix. Here with just a quartet setting, Andy succeeds in providing a path to beauty and contentment without saccharine overtones.

Each track here has an elegance that stands out immediately. All but four of the compositions are Zimmerman originals. There is a reverie that sets in and is only interrupted when the last track on each side is reached. On “Clearing” Matt Penman sets a pulse for Kevin Hays to explore the contentment one experiences when walking on a wooded path with the sun filtering through leaves lighting the way. “Orr Springs Road” finds Andy and Kevin in deep symbiosis. You can feel and hear Andy’s breath intake.

“Montruex” is like a ballet dance with Dave Douglas taking an elegant lead. “The Bay Area” has Douglas and Zimmerman blending like ripples crossing a pond. Hays lays a gossamer silky cloth over Penman’s bass and the two horns. On “Crossing Iowa” Andy caresses the melody much like a mother combing the freshly washed hair of her child. It’s an intoxicating beauty. Gershwin’s “Bess, You is My Woman Now” is reinterpreted in a manner that its theme can be recognized but in a dreamy, near “other worldly” fashion.

“Lena’s Dance” written by Newvelle’s Elan Mehler, has the trumpet and sax dancing like fireflys at night. Penman breaks free for several bass choruses, then Andy and Dave soar again spurred on by Hays intensifying the mood. Ellington’s “Sunset and the Mocking Bird” is my favorite track. Andy channels Johnny Hodges, and each member of the quartet contributes to the ecstatic blissful mood it sets. “Golden Hours” concludes our respite from this world’s craziness with Douglas and Hays providing choruses cascading down like a gentle waterfall.

For a Zen-like late evening listening experience, let Half Light lead the way…

Tracklist:

Side A:
Half Light, Clearing, Orr Springs Road, Montruex, The Bay Area, Two Sapphires

Side B:
Crossing Iowa, Bess You is My Woman Now, Lena’s Dance, Sunset and the Mockingbird, Golden Hours

—Jeff Krow