Fly: Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard - Year of the Snake (2012) High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 24bit/88.2kHz
Artist: Fly: Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard
Title: Year of the Snake
Genre: Jazz, Modern, Avant-Garde, Post-Bop
Label: © ECM Records GmbH | ECM Player
Release Date: 2012
Quality: High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 88,2kHz/24bit
Recorded: January 2011, Avatar Studios, New York
Year of the Snake is the second pianoless saxophone trio set issued by ECM in 2012. The first, Andy Sheppard's excellent Trio Libero, was released in January. While Sheppard's album was deeply focused on lyricism and melodic improvisation, Fly take a varied approach to the ideas and preconceptions of the saxophone trio itself. All three members -- tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Jeff Ballard, and bassist Larry Grenadier -- contribute pieces that concentrate on what's possible for the group rather than individual showcases for composition. Fly's members' resumés have compelling intersection points from Brad Mehldau to Kurt Rosenwinkel, from Enrico Rava to Paul Motian to Pat Metheny, and all of that experience -- as well as that gained from the many other leaders these players have worked with -- is brought into the group consciousness. The hourlong, 12-track set kicks off with Turner's brief tone poem "The Western Lands I." Clocking in at two and a half minutes, it's a rather darkly sketched modern classical piece with shimmering percussion and lovely arco work by Grenadier. It is used as a catalyst for improvisation on four more parts woven throughout the disc. Together they create a guidepost that balances the group's freer concerns and more formal rhythmic and harmonic endeavors. Turner's "Festival Tune," which immediately follows, reveals the fullness of their approach, with Fly sounding bigger, fuller, as they invest in and articulate a fluid but recognizable groove. Grenadier's "Kingston" commences with a sparse, abstract sketch for three of its ten minutes. It's all shimmering call and response, soft angles and spaces, until Ballard kicks it up with breaks and snare, establishing something approaching funk at the four-minute mark. Then the rhythm section fully engages with Turner, who uses the skeletal melody to explore around the propulsive logic. "Benj," by Ballard, shifts time-signature gears numerous times in just over five minutes, with illustrative solo work by Grenadier and wonderful altissimo by Turner without a fixed harmonic construction. The title cut, by Turner, offers a gorgeous earful of how fluid and expansive Fly's "everything is context" sonic universe is, with labyrinthine corners and hidden spaces for harmony and rhythm to assert themselves but never compete for dominance. Of Fly's three recordings to date, Year of the Snake is the most unusual and beguiling; it unhinges preconceived notions about the saxophone trio with complete freedom minus the chaos of disorder. --Thom Jurek, AllMusic
When a group of musicians works together more often in extracurricular configurations with other leaders, what do they do when they come together for their own project? In the case of saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard—who, individually and collectively, have worked with everyone from pianist Brad Mehldau and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel to trumpeter Enrico Rava—it's Fly, the trio that released its self-titled debut on Savoy Jazz in 2004, making the jump to ECM in 2009 with Sky & Country. With a shorter gap between sessions—but still a three year break— Year of the Snake, as the fourth of ten ECM releases so far in 2012 alongside pianist Steve Kuhn's Wisteria, saxophonist Tim Berne's Snakeoil and drummer Billy Hart's All Our Reasons, continues to lay waste to claims of a disproportionate focus on music beyond the 48 states by the heralded German label.
Once again, Year of the Snake brings together compositional contributions from all three players, but takes a left turn from Sky & Country with the inclusion of the five-part "The Western Lands," its first part a dark-hued premise from Turner that's closer to contemporary classical music than the jazz tradition that's a clear reference point for the trio. Four additional parts, scattered throughout the set, are group improvisations stemming from Turner's miniature opener, with Grenadier and the saxophonist weaving lines that orbit, diverge and converge, and Ballard's role more colorist than rhythmist. Ranging from just over half a minute to a mere three minutes and change, these brooding tone poems act as way stations along an hour-long program that twists and turns the premise of the saxophone trio into something altogether new.
It's interesting to compare and contrast Year of the Snake with British saxophonist Andy Sheppard's well-received Trio Libre, released by ECM earlier this year; another reed-based trio record that counters preconceptions of what such a lineup can accomplish. While Sheppard's set weighed heavily on lyricism and a pulse that was as often suggested as it was explicitly played, Turner, Grenadier and Ballard aren't shy to capitalize on the mastery of groove honed in a variety of contexts by the bassist and drummer. Ballard's "Benj," for instance, pushes forward irresistibly, even as it's delivered with the kind of loose interpretive simpatico that's a clear result of nearly 20 years playing together.
At over ten minutes, Grenadier's "Kingston" is more oblique, and a feature for Grenadier's arco playing—which, more dominant this time around, represents a clear evolution for Fly that results in not just a "bigger" sound, as Ballard has suggested, but a more elastic, serpentine ambidexterity. The trio now has greater leverage to divide its time between freer concerns and the more rhythm-centric approach of Turner's "Festival Tune"— unsurprisingly, a more cerebral affair than Ballard's surprisingly episodic "Diorite," which unfolds over its complex six minutes with repeated rhythmic motives, a challenging but ultimately visceral groove and a feature for Turner's remarkable upper register control.
If Fly's raison d'être is to consolidate its members' extracurricular work, then what Year of the Snake demonstrates with crystal clarity is that each player's language, command and sophistication continue to evolve as the result of their efforts; but it's only as Fly that they can truly exercise everything they've honed with complete and utter freedom. Year of the Snake will undoubtedly challenge those familiar with Turner, Grenadier and Ballard's work in intrinsically accessible contexts like Mehldau's Trio, SFJAZZ Collective and projects with guitarist Pat Metheny; but for those ready, willing and able to unshackle their preconceptions, the rewards are great—and many. --John Kelman, All About Jazz
1. The Western Lands I 02:29
2. Festival Tune 06:09
3. The Western Lands II 00:39
4. Brothersister 07:40
5. Diorite 06:15
6. Kingston 10:17
7. Salt and Pepper 05:08
8. The Western Lands III 03:12
9. Benj 05:20
10. Year of the Snake 09:04
11. The Western Lands IV 02:41
12. The Western Lands V 01:49
Mark Turner, tenor saxophone
Larry Grenadier, double-bass
Jeff Ballard, drums
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