Richard Tabnik Trio | Symphony for Jazz Trio | NA1053

Richard Tabnik, alto saxophone | Roger Mancuso, drums | Adam Lane, bass

Produced by Richard Tabnik. Cover Photograph: Jacob J. Goldberg. Stone Gig Photographs: Scott Friedlander. CD Design: JB Bryan. Liner Notes: Marc Medwin. Recorded and mixed by Joe Marciano. Mastered by Max Ross at Systems Two: Brooklyn, NY

Tracklist: CD #1 Studio Set | Improvised Tunes 1. Unfasten Your Mindbelt 2. Let’s Go! 3. Streaming 4. Toroid Affair 5. Luminosity Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace 6. Drum Call 7. The Call for Liberty and Justice for All 8. Homeless 9. What About the Homeless? 10. Prayer 11. A Prayer for Peace 12. Recapitulation: No Alternative to Peace & Justice

Tracklist: CD #2 Live at The Stone, NYC | Improvised Tunes 1. Smile My Baby 2. Linearity Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace 3. Drum Call 4. The Call for Liberty and Justice for All 5. Homeless 6. What About the Homeless 7. Prayer 8. A Prayer for Peace / Recapitulation: No Alternative to Peace & Justice 9. Duly Noted

All music © 2012 Richard Tabnik

Richard Tabnik Trio | Photo by Scott Friedlander


“War is a racket.”

USMC Major General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940)


— the term is loaded with suggestion, from cyclic symmetry to the perfect blending of harmonious sounds, building on tradition and leaving it behind. For seven hundred years, myriad aesthetics and environments have been encapsulated by those three syllables, encompassing practicality, spirituality and all in-between. After a while though, definitions become the tired property of schoolboys. “Yes,” quips Richard Tabnik, ‘Tm glad I’m not in school!”

Richard’s humor offsets an extraordinarily serious philosophy and mu-sicality but his rapid-fire responses mirror the quickjabs and lightning-fast thinking in each line he plays. “Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace” is presented here in two versions— evolved from a typically whimsical exchange with drummer Roger Mancuso.

“Roger, Adam Lane and I had gotten together for some rehearsals before going into the studio to record. At one of the first, Roger asked me if we were going to do the same old thing in the studio? ‘No,’ I said, ‘We’re going to do my Symphony for Jazz Trio! I had never even considered the possibility of writing such a thing, but my offhanded comment led me to go home and do it.”

What Richard has achieved transcends the narrow traditional confines that emerged from the Italian overture and were transformed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The greatest music thrives on freedom and reference; Richard’s symphonic conception plays mood, tonality and history as you might hear them in Mahler’s third, sixth and ninth symphonies. The first and third movements, brisk in tempo, share similar thematic material—listen to those arching melodies glide in Richard’s gorgeously flexible tone!—and of course, the middle movement is slow, a wistful ballad.

All that is academic, but Richard’s malleable structure is built on the freedoms he inherited from decades of performing and teaching experience. Adam and Roger follow his lead, contributing solos that are studies in invention and discipline. Just compare the two manifestations of Roger’s opening solo. In the studio, cymbals constitute only a portion of his widely varied sonic pallet. At The Stone, he lets loose a forty-second post-Cagian construction in metal, crystalline lows and highs ringing the room acoustic with ice. Similarly, Adam’s quarter-tone ventures become the spirituality with which his concert statement resounds. A halftone expands, contracts, expands again, his arco as clean and precise as his tone is clear, imbuing the smallest interval with cavernous import. Around and through it all, Richard, blues-haunted, innocently experienced, speaks volumes with each silky tone. I have never heard an alto sound like his, orchestral in itself.

So all-inclusive is Richard’s vision that the symphony transcends its own boundaries. On each disc, we are treated to preludes on standards. They’re microcosms of the larger work to come. The classic lines are insinuated rather than stated, and the band takes off in true dialogue, playing each tune’s implications. “Isn’t that the point,” says Richard drily, and yet, in less capable hands, the standard has become a museum piece, or a parade ground on which pointless virtuosity sports the emperor’s new clothes. As with the symphony proper, we are given cohesive fragments, the infinite possibilities real musical exploration affords, and at the end of it all, a circle! Maybe Mingus had it right after all, calling his groundbreaking tune ‘All the things you could be by now…” because that’s how “Duly Noted,” Richard’s retraversal of ‘All the Things you Are” feels after everything that has transpired, the galaxies explored and so many returns. The entire album is a journey, from near instantaneous conception to two possible outcomes, and it should be experienced that way. —Marc Medwin

Richard Tabnik Trio | Photo by Scott Friedlander


to Roberta Romeo, the genius who keeps my saxophone singing; thank you jushi (June Siegel)for believing in me when so few people did; thank you Sonny Dallas for all the wisdom that you imparted to me; thank you Lee Konitz for being the reason that I play the alto saxophone; thanks to John Zorn for The Stone; thank you Connie Crothers, for inviting me to do that trio gig at The Stone: you will always be my inspiration, teacher, and favorite musician; and above all, Thank You, Prem Rawat, for showing me Beauty beyond everything else. Thank you etc……

Thank you ALL for your inspiration, wisdom, and kindness.

Recorded and mixed by Joe Marciano, and mastered by Max Ross at Systems Two on December 27, 2007 and January 9, 2008, Brooklyn, NY. Thanks to Joe and Nancy Marciano and Max Ross—you are all the greatest! Every inch of that place is done with great expertise and love; every moment there is fun, focused and productive! The gig at The Stone, NYC on September 18, 2009 recorded by Ben Manley, whose kindness is exceeded only by his brilliance as a recording engineer! — Richard Tabnik

Richard Tabnik | Photo by Scott Friedlander

Remember all those art-house B movies

about dope fiends, those grainy black and white 50s soft porn peep show vignettes, that strange underworld of art wherein you took it all in with a hazed grin but wondered “Where the hell are they getting all that cool post-beatnik jazz from in the soundtracks???” ‘Member those? I do, which is probably revealing more about me than I should. One rarely discovered from whom and whence the sounds issued, though, and it was never quite in the Dexter Gordon / Charlie Parker mode, more the Maynard G. Krebs / Lol Coxhill side of things. Writer Marc Medwin quite rightly attributes many modalities to Richard Tabnik, his trio, and their A Prayer for Peace—Cagian and way-post-Mozartian included—and I have no quibble with any of it; still, this is beatnik jazz, bubba, and thank the stars for that ’cause it’s a disappearing medium.

Medwin also notes, in his 4-page liner essay, that Prayer arose from a conversation between saxist Tabnik and drummer Roger Mancuso. I say that conversation extended deeply into the music and became more than a set of internal interchanges. Musical conversations occur in three levels: with oneself, between fellow players, and outward to the audience. Most groups play a set with themselves, work for the audience or disport among themselves in improv, but Tabnik and Trio are one of those rare units conversing to the audience. There’s a difference, and you can as much feel as hear it in this double disc uniquely presenting the studio version of the centerpiece, Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace, and then a live version on the second disc. The triumvirate’s sound not only creates itself but also projects preternaturally without any need for over-amplification or histrionics, resulting in palpable 3-D tactility. That’s what caught my attention right off the bat; that’s the unique hook.

Peace unfolds itself like a novel: intro, exposition, then an involved weaving meditation culminating in denouement, reflection, and recap/coda. Especially during the 12:17 What About the Homeless?, Tabnik’s mind and heart are laid open in a melancholic dirge fretting over brother and sister humans caught in the merciless jaws of the carcinogenic virus we call ‘capitalism’, and Richard doesn’t just appraise the unfortunates, he gets down in the gutter with them, sleeps the cold nights, wonders about his next meal. It’s all right there in his horn, a sad mistral lark lamenting man’s inhumanity to man. Mancuso and bassist Adam Lane quietly tread the path just steps behind, writing it all down, a tear welling up, Lane’s solo becoming a poem laid beside a fresh grave. Don’t expect Gato Barbieri, Jaco Pastorius, and Billy Cobham, this isn’t a chopsfest but instead an essay, a journal entry covering the silent class war, a reflection in a rain puddle under lowering skies.

Tabnik, you see, has read Smedley Butler’s classic War is a Racket and has followed the hallowed USMC Major General’s observations out to their grim final end: the toll on the homefront to the least among us. When fully half or more of America’s incredible dazzling wealth is given to warmongers and ravening inhuman business monsters, what’s left for us, we from whom the money was taken? The answer is embedded in this CD set, and, speaking of Smedley Butler—not to mention L. Fletcher Prouty, Chris Hedges, Michael Chussadofsy, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and a fully loaded double handful of others—I cannot wait for the day the present era’s radio pseuds (the “Left”, the “progressive”, the “liberal” infauxtainers) disappear, which they’re blindly working on even as I write, thank God, along with their chirographic brethren and we have some true and palpable Leftist thinking in this country: an end to religion, capitalism, Republicanism, and the myriad poisons which have malefically clogged mankind’s lifelines for all of history and now threaten to consummate their collective fell intent to a degree that will horrify future generations…if any survive long enough to produce those later cultures. So when you, dear reader/listener, turn on the radio, when you’re watching for the vultures, don’t forget the snakes. — Mark S. Tucker


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4 thoughts on “Richard Tabnik Trio | Symphony for Jazz Trio | NA1053

  1. Richard,just read your thanks,I can’t begin to tell you what a
    pleasure it is to work with you!!!We feel the same about you!Best of luck with This one.Joe

  2. Not everyone on the contemporary jazz scene falls neatly into tradition versus avant, trad versus free, pulse versus freetime, etc. In fact most of the players if not all out there in the “new” category have a strong sense of history and open themselves to it to varying degrees depending on the project and playing association at hand at any given time.

    What is particularly satisfying about Maestro Tabnik’s playing is the way he re-channels a Tristano influence into a personal contemporary sound and point of view. He does not sound so much like the original Tristano sax acolytes Konitz and Marsh as much as he takes the impetus of Lennie’s asymmetrical across-the-bar phrasings and opens them up to a free zone, which may have implied changes underneath, but fly far afield chromatically and expressively to something most definitely post-new-thing. He has that cry and he can generate good improv ideas for sustained excitement over long periods.

    Adam Lane comes through on bass throughout with beautiful walking and commentary from his corner of the rhythm section as well as extended solo spots that bring home his centrality among the new scene bass players today. Drummer Roger Mancuso is a fellow Crothers group member who has played with Tabnik for a long time and gives out with the very swinging and varied support needed.

    And then of course this is Richard’s chance to really stretch out and he takes full advantage with some hot-plate scorching and a freely ranging imagination. Sometimes all this takes place on top of implied changes, such as “I’ll Remember April” changes at the start. Other times there is a looser harmonic framework. And always there is a very fully open harmonic-melodic sensibility that you listen to with open ears to fully understand.

    One thing to consider. This is a great deal of music. You may want to take on one CD at a sitting on first hear. But the rewards are directly proportionate to the time and space the band and you, the listener, devote to making this music sound. It is well worth the effort.

    Tabnik shows us why he remains a crucial force in jazz today–and he does it wholly on his own terms. Kudos!

  3. Looking at the cover, with a man sitting peacefully, holding a newspaper in his hand that reads *War is a Racket*, behind him a peace symbol, you might think that you are about to hear the album of a rock-and-roll artist or a singer-songwriter. However, this man is Richard Tabnik, one of the great contemporary alto sax players, who has been playing in pianist Connie Crothers* quartet for years and who is now leading his own trio with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Roger Mancuso. The two sidemen are vastly experienced musicians, Lane with his projects in the realm of free music, including orchestral contexts, and Mancuso, who played for many years with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, and for years has been a stable fixture in Connie Crothers* quartet. The sound of Tabnik*s sax, calmly advancing against the rhythm, and the quotes from famous standards throughout the statement give this disc a unique fascination.

    And this is beyond the message of peace, which places this album in the company of those famous recordings from the Liberation Orchestra to Sonny Rollins and Max Roach. Every note has its own inflection and pronunciation, the claim of a certain autonomy in that which is the world of contemporary jazz. One can hear the influence of his former teacher, Lee Konitz, whom he specifically thanks in the album credits, along with John Zorn, who invited him to the Stone, the mythical avant-garde venue in New York. Tabnik inhabits the traditions of jazz, just as his two sidemen, yet he manages to convey an original message along with an absolute mastery in his command of improvisation.

    The three know how to blend and present themselves to the audience with a precise group identity, original as individual instrumentalists and as a trio. It is not difficult to distinguish them from their colleagues! The first disc is a studio recording, the second a live recording from the Stone. Both are comprised of a pair of spontaneously improvised tracks followed by the suite, Symphony for Jazz Trio / A Prayer for Peace. The two versions, live and in-studio, each have their own fascination, and either one could easily be your favorite. With this kind of improviser, each track could be performed a multitude of times, but every version would highlight new aspects. Along with their message of peace is the beauty of these takes and the originality of the music, which insure that they will not soon be forgotten.

  4. First impressions on new jazz/blues/improv releases “Discs one and two represent two complete performances of alto saxophonist Tabnik, drummer Roger Mancuso and bassist Adam Lane improvising quite freely on songs then addressing a six-movement piece that is in ambition, if not instrumentation, “symphonic.” Tabnik may be known, to some extent, for his appearances with pianist Connie Crothers, one of the most visionary explorers emerging from Lennie Tristano’s lineage, and like her he subscribes to the Tristano strategy of devising intricate harmonic variations of standards like “All the Things You Are,” “I Got Rhythm” etc. Glimpses of those themes peak out from the trio’s otherwise nicely synchronized yet stream-of-consciousness play.

    The saxophonist is extremely fluid within his personal saxophone sound, which is like a very close, intimating voice offering ideas at a rapid rate or bouncing back thoughts proposed by his bandmates. They, in turn, maintain a stream of deftly marked time, while remaining loosely responsive to Tabnik’s phrases and inflections. He pushes intonation into high-octave microtonality, with a logic in his lines akin to some of Anthony Braxton’s directions, the light dryness of Paul Desmond and occasional Ornette-like runs or fragments. However, I have a hard time distinguishing one movement of Tabnik’s symphony — each with a politically sensitive title — from the next. Well-attuned interaction by these three, though, musical heart in the right place.”

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