Rob Derke and the NYJAZZ Quartet – Blue Divide [TrackList follows] – Zoho ZM201401, 55:16 [1/14/14] (Distr. by Allegro) ****:
(Rob Derke – soprano saxophone; Aruán Ortiz – piano; Carlo De Rosa – bass; Eric McPherson – drums)
Soprano saxophonist Rob Derke is a man with a mission. He is the director of the NYJAZZ Initiative, a nonprofit organization which connects young people with jazz in an attempt to bring the music to future generations, and to keep the jazz tradition alive and well via workshops, concerts and other programs. The NYJAZZ Quartet is the pillar of the NYJAZZ Initiative, and on the band’s new album, Blue Divide, the foursome offers an hour-long platform for issues past and present, personal and political, musical and otherwise.
Derke is joined on eight pieces by pianist Aruán Ortiz; bassist Carlo De Rosa; and drummer Eric McPherson. Derke, De Rosa and McPherson were involved with the Thad Jones tribute, Mad about Thad (2011), credited to the NYJAZZ Initiative. Most material on Blue Divide was penned separately by bandmembers, plus there is one Herbie Hancock cover. Like the Mad about Thad project, there is often a spirit of honor or praise. After an introductory prelude, the group commences with De Rosa’s upbeat “Pasillo Azul” (Spanish for “blue hallway”), inspired by a tune which De Rosa learned from guitarist Jim Hall. While not strictly a blues, the animated arrangement suggests the essence of blues music, while it also provides a vaguely disconcerting sensitivity due to varied chord changes and time signature alterations. Derke’s commemoration, the blues-driven “Davey’s Dreams,” was written for Dave “Davey” Schildkraut, an alto saxophonist who began in the bop era and worked with Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, and Louis Prima; and is probably most famous for performing on Miles Davis’ composition “Solar,” from the 1954 LP Walkin’. Derke’s friendship with Schildkraut is articulated during this lengthy sonic portrait, with Derke, Ortiz and De Rosa improvising to good effect on Derke’s motivic theme. Derke follows with “G’s Waltz,” another representation of someone significant to him, this time his daughter Gabriella. This is a sublime number suitable to hum as a lullaby at bedtime or, later, perhaps to use for a dance between a proud father and a former child who has grown up to become a young bride. In the liner notes, Derke digs deeper into the tune’s inspiration, “It is important to recognize that our children will have to face the consequences of our actions.”
The sense of experiencing and respecting events which can shape human beings or nations is notable on other tracks. Derke’s throbbing, bop-tinted “Dispossession” was based on his travels in the Middle East, where he observed the violence and repercussions of conflict and strife, where indigenous people have had their lives uprooted, been involuntarily removed, or forced to flee. The awareness of these incidents is muscularly heard as Derke and Ortiz swap ideas as Derke soars on his sax and Ortiz crafts sweeping piano runs. There is a similar musical progression during Derke’s “Taksim” (Turkish for “division,” but also related to the Arabic word, Taqsim, which refers to a melodic musical improvisation typically preceding a traditional composition). “Taksim” evokes anti-government demonstrations Derke witnessed in Istanbul in 2013. The arrangement has tempo fluctuations and colorful breaks, which are vigorous or receding, akin to a large crowd interacting with military or police.
The quartet also shows a serener side on quieter pieces such as De Rosa’s “Knowing” and Hancock’s “Still Time.” De Rosa’s composition starts as a ballad and gradually intensifies to a brisk cadence. Here, he displays his aural narrative skills, as he eloquently denotes, via his bass lines, “the first time something is deeply known to a person.” This could be a universal belief or an individual introspection; nevertheless, the communication and emotional level is superb. Viewers of the 1986 film, ‘Round Midnight, the fictional account of an expatriate jazz artist in France, might be familiar with Hancock’s wistful number, which has become a modern-day standard. Derke’s reflective soprano sax captures the tragedy and melancholy inherent in the melody, while the other players reinforce the theme with sympathetic, rhythmic insight. The entire album is nicely produced, engineered and mixed, and presents a warm, live-in-the-studio ambiance which beautifully supports the NYJAZZ Quartet’s music and intentions.
TrackList: Prelude; Pasillo Azul; Davey’s Dreams; Dispossession; Knowing; G’s Waltz; Still Time; Taksim.