Richard Sussman Quintet – Live at Sweet Rhythm – Origin 82563, 61:42 ****:
(Richard Sussman – piano, producer; Tom Harrell – trumpet; Jerry Bergonzi – tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond – bass; Jeff Williams – drums)
Usually magical moments only occur once. But sometimes, with luck, magic strikes twice. That’s the glory of Live at Sweet Rhythm, which features the Richard Sussman Quintet, also known as the Free Fall Reunion Band.
First a bit of history to set the proper perspective: back in 1978 pianist Sussman was part of the New York City jazz scene and played at loft parties and in smaller clubs. He met and performed with other musicians his age, which eventually resulted in Sussman’s desire to put a group together and record some of his original compositions. The ensuing undertaking was Free Fall, a post-bop effort on the tiny Inner City label that got some critical plaudits but did not sell well. Flash forward 25 years: by 2003 other musicians considered the record a mini-classic, Sussman acquired the album rights and reissued it. The CD release party at NYC venue Sweet Rhythm featured Sussman and most of the Free Fall members, and that is where history ends and the present begins.
Since 2003 Sussman’s career as composer, instructor, arranger and author has continued to grow, which got him thinking about that Sweet Rhythm gig: the outcome is this hour-long document of old and new Sussman pieces alongside choice standards.
Oh, and what about that band? In 1978 the players may not have been renowned, but now? How about tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Jeff Williams? The only musician unable to assist on the reunion was tenor saxophonist Larry Schneider.
Sussman’s material allows for muscular and robust interaction. There are many highlights, including “Tiahuanaco,” a progressive hard bop cut with an urgent rhythm accented by Richmond’s excellent solo jaunt, while Harrell blazes on trumpet: if someone has never seen him on stage, this is the second best way to appreciate his skills. The lovely “Lady of the Lake” is another number from the Free Fall date and as it slowly heats up Bergonzi takes off with a smoldering sax solo that evokes Coltrane’s coloring as well as George Coleman’s steady tone. The coup de grace, though, is an extended workout on “Free Fall,” set up with an unaccompanied introduction by Williams, which then leads to several free jazz segments fronted by Bergonzi and Harrell: Harrell in particular stands out as he serves shifting swaths of chords. Sussman remains in the background for the most part – giving the horns full rein – and only chooses the leadership role near the end, re-igniting the arrangement into a dynamic and frenzied finish.
Regarding the recent tunes, the opener “Waiting” is a prominent, rhythmically complex title that has an upfront melodic impact and is readymade for instinctual artists, like Bergonzi and Harrell, to take complete advantage of Sussman’s charts. The quintet’s interpretative forte is shown during a good-natured run through Tadd Dameron’s “Soultrane,” recorded by Coltrane and subsequently numerous others: as the piece concludes, Bergonzi wittily adds a dash of a well-known refrain Coltrane made famous, that fans will immediately recognize.
2. Mary’s Song
5. What’s New
6. Lady of the Lake
7. Free Fall
— Doug Simpson