The George Lernis Jazz Quartet – Shapes of Nature [9/1/11] – self-released

by | Aug 24, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

The George Lernis Jazz Quartet – Shapes of Nature [9/1/11] – self-released, 46:06 ***1/2:

(George Lernis – drums, producer, percussion; Lefteris Kordis – piano; Mark Zaleski – upright bass; Scott Boni – alto saxophone)

Drummer/percussionist George Lernis’ self-released debut, Shapes of Nature, is essentially the musician’s transition from student to professional. Lernis’ seven original tracks utilize the musical education he experienced at Berklee College, New England Conservatory and Longy School of Music. One of Lernis’ major influences is New England Conservatory teacher Lefteris Kordis, so it is no surprise Kordis was offered the piano chair in Lernis’ quartet. Fellow alumni Mark Zaleski (acoustic bass) and Scott Boni (alto sax) fill out the group.

In his liner notes, Lernis admits all of the tunes on this album are the result of lessons with Kordis during the last four years, so Shapes of Nature is Lernis’ graduation present to the world, his master’s thesis proffered to the listening audience. A unifying theme which infuses this 46-minute project is alteration. Lernis used several jazz standards as compositional models, adapting pieces by Charlie Parker and others into material unrecognizable from the sources.

Opener “Early Spring” is a suitable sample of Lernis’ modus operandi, which takes Parker’s “Anthropology” as a starting point. Lernis dropped notes, replaced Parker’s scales with Arabic maqams (a system of melodic modes often applied in traditional Arabic music) and added frequent metrical changes. The effect is boppish in nature but definitely not Parker. The front line of Boni and Kordis give “Early Spring” a jumpy but earthy character with Kordis’ solo a highlight. Here and elsewhere, Lernis’ contributions are sympathetic to the ensemble sound: he sculpts the rhythmic foundation but allows others to have the spotlight.

Other pieces denote Lernis’ percussion background and music studies. “Rhythm Portals” is organized through George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic compositional concepts. The mid-tempo number commences with a lightly funky, New Orleans-tinted bass introduction, followed by Kordis’ upper register piano ostinato and finally the soulful melody is initiated via Boni’s sax. Lernis and Zaleski – who also furnishes an exemplary bass solo – actively vary the rhythmic flow but maintain a Southern-sliced flow. On the traditionally-slanted “Walking in Rhythm,” Lernis distends the standard “(There Is) No Greater Love” and modifies the well-worn tune to the point that little if anything of the original is left. Boni again provides some bop-oriented sax while Kordis shows a sense of Monk in his cadenced keyboard.

Lernis rarely solos, instead grounding most material with his wide-ranging rhythmic performance. However, he does come forward near the conclusion of the ear-catching, medium-paced “Squirrel Dance,” an alluring number which has a straightforward swing and expressive solo contributions from each band member. Lernis is also at the forefront of the explorative “Canvas,” which begins with Lernis’ atmospherically subtle malleted drums and textural cymbals. Here, Lernis employs various kinds of scales to impart subtle contrasts to a dominating melancholic temperament.

Lernis is still developing his personal sound, still investigating his options and finding singular approaches to composition and performance. Shapes of Nature is a notable debut and indicates Lernis’ future potential is wide open and full of possibilities.

1. Early Spring
2. Squirrel Dance
3. Canvas
4. Rhythm Portals
5. Walking in Rhythm
6. Bending Time
7. Feeling Groovy

— Doug Simpson

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