Jessica Jones, tenor saxophone | Mark Taylor, french horn, mellophone | John Shifflet, bass | Jason Lewis, drums
Tracklist: 1. Furious George* 2. Waiting for the Vampire’s Redemption+ 3. By the Park at Midnight (Zamindar’s Promenade)* 4. The Zamindar Gambit* 5. Waynopolis+ 6. Manhattan+ 7. Sketch #2* 8. What Purpose is Your Pain 9. Breath.Eyes*
*by Mark Taylor ©Taymor Music | +by Jessica Jones ©House with a Garden Music. Recorded Live June 25, 2011 at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley, California
Tenor saxophonist and pianist Jessica has worked with Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Steve Coleman, Don Cherry, and Peter Apfelbaum as well as a variety of Haitian, Caribbean and African bands. These influences helped form her compositional direction which is grounded in the jazz tradition and, as is truly traditional in jazz, reaches for new directions and a unique sound. The primary outlet for her compositions for the past twenty years has been the Jessica Jones Quartet, a pianoless quartet founded with fellow tenor player and husband Tony Jones. In addition to working and recording with the Jessica Jones Quartet, Jessica is active as a sideman. She is also as an innovative jazz educator and consultant, working with children focusing on improvisation, composition and oral traditions.
Mark Taylor is one of a handful of talented young performers carrying on the improvisational tradition pioneered by the great (french) hornist, Julius Watkins. Taylor’s sound has been described as “rapturous” and “golden” (Coda Magazine); “as fluid and limpid as (the) flute, and as gnarly as (the) alto.” (JazzTimes). His innovative style has won him recognition by such legendary artists as Max Roach, who said, “Mark Taylor is a virtuoso instrumentalist…there is no one dealing with the french horn or the music the way he is.”
Mark has performed and recorded with an array of modern giants including: Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, and Basie bandleader Grover Mitchell. As a featured soloist with Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus he toured throughout the United States, Europe and in Asia. As a member of George Schuller’s post-modern big band, Orange Then Blue, Mark participated in a State Department tour of Turkey, Cyprus and Syria. As leader of his own groups he has performed at Jazz Festivals in Tampere, Finland and Ljubljana and Maribor, Slovenia and at a number of clubs in Germany, Austria, Canada and New York City, including Porgy and Bess, Cafe Unterfahrt, Birdland, the Zinc Bar and the Knitting Factory. As a composer, he has written for Max Roach, the Ebony Brass Quintet, pianist Larry Willis and is a member of the So What Brass Quintet. He has also been commissioned to compose for theatre and dance, placed two songs in the Dollface Productions independent feature film “The Girl” and recently completed the score for Camille Billops’ documentary, “A String of Pearls”.
John Shifflett almost received an M.A. in music from the University of Iowa, where he also taught Jazz Studies and directed big bands. He is currently an instructor at San Jose State University, teaching bass, small ensembles, and Jazz History. He has done countless studio sessions ranging from radio and TV jingles to jazz and country and pop recordings. His show business experience includes tours with Frankie Avalon and the Ringling-Barnum & Bailey circus, several seasons with the San Jose Civic Light Opera, and many engagements with stars such as Dinah Shore, Mel Torme, Jerry Lewis, Dionne Warwick, the Smothers Brothers, etc.
His primary focus, however, has always been jazz. He has performed with the likes of Dave Liebman, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, John Zorn, Kim Richmond, Madeleine Peyroux, Kurt Elling, Norma Winstone, Tom Harrell, Bobby Hutcherson, John Stowell, Harold Land, Houston Person, Kendra Shank, and others. In the Bay Area he can be heard with Boz Scaggs (and CD), Christian Tamburr (and CD), Shay Salhov, Eric Crystal (and CD), Mike Zilber collaborations (and CDs), the Scott Amendola Band (and CDs), the Taylor Eigsti Trio (and CDs), the Paul Nagel Trio (and CD), the Dave MacNab Trio, Ann Dyer & No Good Time Fairies (and CDs), Kitty Margolis (and CD), the Will Bernard Quartet (and CD), Anton Schwartz (and CDs), Ray Brown’s Great Big Band (and CD), Ben Goldberg, Tim Volpicella (and CDs), and many others.
Jason Lewis graduated from the classical percussion program at San Jose State University, under the direction of Tony Cirone of the San Francisco Symphony, with a B.A. in music. Mr.Lewis has taught privately in the bay area, coached at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and has performed clinics at schools throughout the San Jose area.
He has played with a variety of talented musicians including; John Stowell, Gary Burton, Gil Goldstein, James Moody, Mark Murphy, Bob Sheppard, Steve Rodby, Paul McCandles, Norma Winstone, Larry Coryell, Darol Anger, Regina Carter, Johnny Frigo, James Carter, John Handy, Anton Schwartz , Terry Disley, Mark Levine, Peter Apfelbaum, Paul Nagel, and Kurt Elling. Mr.Lewis has also performed with the San Jose Symphony and the San Jose Civic Light Opera.
Besides performing throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with many groups, often with bassist John Shifflett , Mr. Lewis has toured and recorded with Boz Scaggs, Michael Brook, Djivan Gasparyan, Ann Dyer and Taylor Eigsti. He can be heard on numerous recordings as well as TV (Spark on PBS), Video Game (Godfather 2) and Movie Soundtracks (Affliction, Albino Alligator, Ratatouille-”Our Friend the Rat”).
It’s quite apparent that this quartet
reached an exceptional level of cohesiveness by the end of its 2011 California tour, as can be heard on this CD recorded live at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, CA. It helps that the co-leaders, tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones and French horn player Mark Taylor, have similar backgrounds, and that bassist John Shifflet and drummer Jason Lewis have played together in various contexts for 25 years. Jones and Taylor both participated in the ’80’s progressive jazz scene in New York, with Jones going on to perform with the likes of Don Cherry, Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Steve Coleman, and Peter Apfelbaum’s Hieroglyphics Ensemble, while Taylor played with artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, and Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus. The music on Live at the Freight has a sureness of purpose and direction, a natural fluidity, and is devoid of pretentiousness or overplaying. If there’s enough material left over for a Volume Two, its release would be most welcome.
The contrapuntal interplay between Jones and Taylor on the theme reading of the latter’s “Furious George” recalls both Gerry Mulligan from the early ’50’s with Chet Baker, and Ornette Coleman. Taylor, Jones, and Shifflet’s solos soar on a heady foundation of blues and bop. Jones’ “Waiting for the Vampire’s Redemption” has an insinuating rubato opening with the composer in the lead, which soon evolves into an intertwining four-part free form conversation that intensifies in urgency before a reprise cools things down soothingly. Lewis’ elaborate drum work adds significantly to the piece’s well thought out ebb and flow. “By the Park at Midnight (Zamindar’s Promenade)” is one of the two Taylor tunes on the CD inspired by his fictitious mysterious man of the world character that has also appeared on past Taylor recordings. This midnight walk in the park appears fraught with danger, as eerie, ghostly sounds percolate, skillfully rendered by Jones and Taylor as Shifflet’s ostinato maintains a lurking presence and Lewis creates a variety of provocative aural effects. Taylor’s absorbing solo ruminates, while Jones’ improv spirals restlessly. Lewis’s drum exposition is a fine lesson in dynamics, and Shifflet’s arco dissonances cleverly lead back to the mournful legato theme.
“The Zamindar Gambit” commences with Taylor’s call-to-arms intro and his and Jones’ woven rendition of the central theme, as Shifflet and Lewis combine with stalking rhythmic insistence. Jones’ solo is soulfully expressive, while Taylor’s compelling statement has the French horn speaking in tongues. Shifflet’s booming solo is soon transplanted by Jones and Taylor for a resolute reprise. Jones’ tribute to Wayne Shorter, “Waynopolis,” with Taylor on mellophone, is an ethereal composition with a loping rhythmic base. Jones’ probing improvisation sets a deliberate, winding course that gradually sharpens, succeeded by Taylor’s mellophone in an unpredictable exclamation played with a tonal quality centered between a flugelhorn and a trombone. Lewis is outstanding on this track, both in his complementary work behind the soloists and in his own riveting survey. Shifflet has the last say, and it’s in keeping with the others in terms of quality and appeal. Taylor’s on mellophone again for Jones’ “Manhattan,” and he and Jones make like Cherry and Coleman in this variably floating and edgy escapade. The solos from the duo are terse and swirling, while Shifflet’s is brooding and becoming. Lewis arguably steals the show on this track, with engaging commentary and a solo of head turning vitality.
Taylor’s dark-toned “Sketch #2” accentuates the group’s rapport with simultaneous voicings of elevated substance. Taylor and especially Jones deliver solos possessing vocalized timbres that greatly enhance their messages. The bassist and drummer team up to create a vivid foundation that is never submerged, but rather is an integral part of this so-called “sketch.” Jones’ slippery and charming “What Purpose is Your Pain” first appeared on her 2008 Word CD, also with Taylor on board. The co-leaders mull over the theme in a refreshing dialogue. Tempo and textural changes by Lewis spice up the quartet’s interaction, and the head’s revisit satisfyingly resolves this airtight endeavor. “Breath.Eyes” is a Taylor opus that brings to mind Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” in Shifflet’s ongoing bass line, but the melody itself is far less ominous. The solos by Taylor, Jones, and Shifflet are enthusiastically explorative, again stimulated by Lewis’ very active proddings, which can almost be viewed as a concurrent solo creation in itself. This closing track is final proof of this foursome’s highly intuitive, well-synchronized connection. — Scott Albin
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Live at the Freight chronicles a June 2011 date at the venerable Freight & Salvage coffeehouse in Berkeley, California, co-led by tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones and French horn and mellophone player Mark Taylor. The compositions, all originals and mostly quite good, are split between the two leaders.
The first slightly unusual twist to the quartet is the presence of the French horn, rather than a trumpet. Saxophonist Jones makes the case for the French horn this way: “Trumpeters don’t go to a pillowy place very often. They stay piercey.” Pillowy rather than piercey is a good way to characterize Taylor’s playing, and it softens the sound, perfectly in keeping with the low-simmer, talking-rather-than shouting, unhurried groove of the conversation captured on the record.
There are hints here of bassist Charles Mingus’ “Celia” (in “Breath.Eyes”), and saxophonist Yusef Lateef’s “Like It Is” (in “Waynopolis”), and a lot more than just hints of the music of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. The altoist’s imprint can be heard in the laconic half smile hidden in the theme of the lovely “Waiting for the Vampire’s Redemption,” or in the way the soaring horn melody is somehow untethered from the busy bass and drums underneath in “By the Park at Midnight.”
But Coleman’s influence is felt more profoundly in the way Jones and Taylor master the “controlled freedom” that fuelled Coleman’s early harmolodic masterpieces in the early 1960s: a mix of empathy, close listening and blues oozing out of every pore. This demanding interplay is the source of Live at the Freight’s most lasting delights.
On some numbers, like “What Purpose Is Your Pain,” Jones and Taylor interweave their horns contrapuntally in the statement of the melodic line, like Coleman used to do with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, or indeed, like saxophonists Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan on their Two of a Mind (RCA, 1962). It’s a practice, piano-less, that hearkens back to the original New Orleans lineups. On “The Zamindar Gambit,” the leaders’ solos seem to speak to each other: Jones circles in around the melody oddly, catlike, as multi- instrumentalist Eric Dolphy used to do; when Taylor’s turn comes, he sidles up to the melody in the same way.
The strong sense of fellow-feeling extends to the excellent bass of John Shifflet and drums of Jason Lewis: their Latin-like dual solo on “The Zamindar Gambit” is among the record’s highlights.
Shortly after recording this concert, Taylor was diagnosed with a neurological condition that may prevent him from playing in the future. The sad news is rendered more poignant by the excellence of this record. Throughout, the playing on Live at the Freight is marked by an abundance of good ideas and the patience to allow those ideas to develop fully and cooperatively.