The Christopher Alpiar Quartet – The Jazz Expression [1995/2012] – Behip, 58:38 ***1/2:
(Chris Alpiar – tenor saxophone, co-producer; Pete Rende – piano; Matt Pavolka – bass; Bob Meyer – drums)
The Christopher Alpiar Quartet’s self-released album, The Jazz Expression, is a time capsule. The hour-long outing features five Alpiar originals, and captures the band as it was in 1995, but the music recalls the glory days of late-period John Coltrane, to a lesser extent Ornette Coleman, and in one instance, Joe Henderson. Tenor saxophonist Alpiar, pianist Pete Rende, bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Bob Meyer had a regular gig at the New York City jazz venue, The Angry Squire (also known as The Squire), and during that time the quartet went into a studio to lay down some unreleased tracks. Fast-forward to the present, when Alpiar rediscovered DAT tapes from that session, got some help to restore them, and issued the music via the Behip label.
The foursome open with “Welcome (Peace for the World),” a lengthy number (just a shade under 16 minutes) which evokes Coltrane’s famed 1965 quartet, with bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones. Alpiar grabs the initial front line with an extended solo which echoes Coltrane’s inimitable sense of melody and his rhythmically abstract pulse. While the rhythm section builds a central rhythm, Alpiar stays above the beat, with modulations and passionate single lines. Rende assumes the second solo, providing swift and sweeping piano lines. While Rende is not as fervent as Tyner could be, he showcases his resourcefulness. The tune slows as Pavolka secures the spotlight: while the others sit out for a spell, Pavolka displays his tender side. Meyer takes the final improvisational position, and then the band returns to the main refrain for the levitating conclusion. The seven-minute “Jupiter, Deep Space” continues to conjure Coltrane’s spirit (it even paraphrases a Coltrane title). This is explorative and searching, and occasionally traverses into atonality. Like Coltrane, Alpiar uses uninhibited improvisations, where he sometimes expresses a brief off-the-cuff theme. The Coltrane legacy is even more pronounced on the epic “Trane’s Pain,” a 19-minute tour-de-force, which moves from calm moments to sections of abundant intensity, although “Trane’s Pain” may be a chore for listeners who don’t generally enjoy protracted pieces. There are numerous tempo changes, themes are established (Coltrane fans may recognize some), are then dropped, are restated; and new ones added and then discarded. There are intricate lines and dexterous solos from each musician. There is rhythmic and harmonic tension and interplay. And throughout, Alpiar demonstrates a volcanic volatile technique which proves how much he reveres the foundation laid by Coltrane.
The quartet discloses a capacity for ballads on the quietly stirring, 11-minute “Utsukushi,” which can be translated from Japanese as “beautiful”; “pretty”; “lovely”; or “charming.” This is where Alpiar unveils his Henderson adoration. Although there are moments when the four artists provide a shimmering low-brewed aggression, for the most part this reveals the band’s warmer aspects, with sensitive bass and sax. Although this cut is a bit overlong, it has a melody which could or should make “Utsukushi” an enduring composition, ripe for others to reinterpret. The concluding, coolly elegant “Snowy” also embraces the foursome’s gentle perspective, with meditative contributions from Rende and Alpiar.
TrackList: Welcome (Peace for the World); Jupiter, Deep Space; Utsukushi; Trane’s Pain; Snowy.
This is a delightful holiday collection.