Herwig/Beirach/DeJohnette – The Tip Of The Sword – RadJazz Music RJ1501, 48:37 [2/27/2012] ****:
(Conrad Herwig – trombone; Richie Beirach – piano; Jack DeJohnette – drums)
Conrad Herwig is a well known trombonist on the New York jazz scene. After beginning his career with Clark Terry in the eighties, he became a featured member of the Joe Henderson Sextet, Tom Harrell’s Septet and Big Band and Joe Lovano’s Nonet. With a talent for arrangement (including the Grammy nominated Mingus Big Band Live At The Tokyo Blue Note), he is in demand as a session player. Additionally, he is a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and teaches at two universities. As a band leader, Herwig has recorded twenty-one albums, receiving critical acclaim for several Afro-Cuban jazz projects concentrating on the music of John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
The Tip Of The Sword takes its perspective from the sacred texts of Zuangzi, but the musical landscape is volatile improvisational jazz. Seven original compositions (all by Herwig) incorporate an unusual trio configuration in presenting a variety of jazz moods. The opening track, “Where The Tip Of The Sword Settles” explodes in a blistering hard bop arrangement. Herwig’s trombone lead is sizzling and pianist Daniel Beirach combines cascading piano lines with the polyrhythmic drumming of Jach DeJohnette. Beirach’s soloing is percussively deft and the drum solo is powerful. Switching to a moodier ambiance, “Mastery Of The Mind” explores more melodic variations, with restrained trombone play, countered by cymbals and avante-garde piano chords. As the piano takes over in the middle, a spooky classical run leads into an ascetic horn counter lead. DeJohnette seems capable of adjusting the drumming to any tempo.
With a steady pulse, “Thought Precedes Action” is wildly unpredictable and progressive. Herwig pushes his instrument beyond limits from the lowest register to wailing jazz notation. Beirach makes up for the absence of a bass with chord rhythms that merge with the drums. Using an opening drum salvo is also prevalent on the Latin-infused “Inner Sincerity”. Herwig demonstrates impeccable timing, building on the solid foundation of DeJohnette and Beirach who executes a brilliant solo.
The writing and arrangement expertise of Herwig take center stage on the more atmospheric pieces. The “Void” evolves without a formal rhythm (just intermittent cymbals). The unstructured feel evokes a dark minimalist resonance. Another change of pace is the elegant “Moonlight On The Water/Rebirth” suite. Beirach offers his most lyrical piano runs on the album. As Herwig joins, the harmonious interaction between the musicians is striking. All three players have an intuitive feel for these arrangements.
The Tip Of The Sword is abstract, but very listenable.
TrackList: Where The Tip Of The Sword Settles; Mastery Of The Mind; Thought Precedes Action; The Void; Moonlight On The Water/Rebirth; Being/Non-Being
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