Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven [TrackList follows] – ECM 2357, 58:23 [9/9/14] (Distr. by Universal) ****:

(Mark Turner – tenor saxophone; Avishai Cohen – trumpet; Joe Martin – double bass; Marcus Gilmore – drums)

This disc consists of six compositions by Mr. Turner.  Although he’s had a handful of releases under his own name, this is his[ first since 2001.  He has kept his name in the forefront as a sideman for dozens of  discs, including one on ECM under drummer Billy Hart’s name.  No big ego here, Turner is more concerned with contributing to topflight music as is also demonstrated by very fine live appearances. He has digested all the usual tenors, but interestingly includes Warne Marsh as contributing to his singular sound.  He is not a stranger to piano-less groups, as attested to by the ECM collaborative trio Fly.  Trumpeter Cohen has also recorded with no chordal instrument, so they realize and embrace both the freedom this allows along with the greater responsibilities.  The two of them integrate wonderfully, as do bassist Martin and drummer Gilmore in the well captured sound. [This is neither the soundtrack music for the 1980 film nor the soundtrack of the 2002 remake of the movie of the same name…Ed.]

Many of the tunes go from a sax and trumpet unison statement of the melody, to occasional counterpoint sections before solos and closing things with a return to the melody in unison.  Actually, the horns never stray that far from the basic theme during their flights within the cerebrally constructed tracks.  These compositions were developed over some period of time and show it – no mere blowing session here. It says something that there is not one real up tempo tune in the bunch, but it’s hardly noticeable and not missed.

The opening title track is representative of things with its unison melody statement, but only Turner solos on this one.  The solo makes perfect sense within the composition and his tenor dances around the trumpet as the track ends.  “Year of the Rabbit” affords Cohen his first solo and his nice tone and obvious abilities show why he is perhaps the fastest rising trumpeter on the scene.  This tune is tightly structured but shows highly creative soloing by both horns.  One of Turner’s strengths is that his solos are always logical and lead somewhere.  The opposite of a sax man who takes the spotlight, shows his stuff, and then figures he’s done and just hands things back to the rhythm section.

“Ethan’s Line” at 8:01 is the shortest track.  One again, unison breaking into some counterpoint before each horn separately takes flight.  It also affords Martin and Gilmore some spotlight – the bass does get some solo time on the disc, but drummer Gilmore does no singular soloing (it’s all mutual with the bass) while supporting superbly with free accents.

“The Edenist” is based on a slow repetitive bassline projected up front.  This steady pulse results in Turner’s free-est solo.  Martin and Gilmore are excellent throughout this number.  “Sonnet for Stevie” opens with a short bass solo before Turner and Gilmore join in.  After some unison horns Turner takes another fine coherent solo before Cohen, who really does have very nice tone, follows with perhaps his best solo.

As stated, there’s not one up tempo tune so the session might as well end with the slowest.  The slow languid pace of “Brother Sister 2” shows some real nice writing with the usual high level horn solos.  There’s a particularly engaging section of intertwining between Turner and Cohen which summarizes each ones talent.

This intellectually stimulating release reveals how much Turner’s compositional skills have grown since his last disc under his name.  It also introduces the listener to a soon-to-be-widely-recognized trumpeter in Cohen.  The contribution of the bass and drums to the mix is completely appropriate.  Talking about mixes, it also presents the sterling sonics for which ECM has been held in such high regard for so many years.  I looked forward to a Turner release produced by ECM and this one is a fully realized prize.

TrackList:  Lathe of Heaven; Year of the Rabbit; Ethan’s Line; The Edenist; Sonnet for Stevie; Brother Sister 2.

—Birney K. Brown