A quartet under Mark Turner’s name started an early set last week at the Village Vanguard with some standards: Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie” and Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels.” Not long after the beginning, the music started to change from the inside out: known structures, unknown contents. And after that it became even less traceable.
There was Mr. Turner’s tenor saxophone sound, even and bold in all registers and almost liturgical about scale patterns; there was the drummer Paul Motian’s counterintuitive ways of keeping a beat; and there was the bassist Ben Street’s strong masonry of tonic notes. All those musicians can make the familiar seem weird. But it was the Cuban-born pianist David Virelles who did the most to make the gig erupt.
Mr. Virelles, 27, spent most of the last decade in Canada, first as a protégé of the saxophonist Jane Bunnett. Now he lives in New York and he’s getting around quickly. He toured with Steve Coleman last year and played with Mr. Turner’s quartet at the Vanguard last fall; he returned to that club with Chris Potter’s group in January. He’s on new records by David Binney and Curtis Macdonald. Keep an eye on him.
Even in the standards, he did strange things — advanced matters of touch, surprise and momentum. In the Monk, at a wickedly slow tempo, he would linger over melodic phrases in the song and then add a single banged note like an exclamation point; at other times he seemed to be meditatively walking away from the song, building chordal patterns that fragmented and dissipated as the rest of the band stayed on the watch. The music had its peaks, with everyone playing at full strength, but its lulls were even better. And those parts weren’t connoting peace or absence; they were full of action and tension.
In Mr. Motian’s mysterious “Conception Vessel” Mr. Virelles built up to a droning, beautiful, minimalist song within a song, letting Mr. Street and Mr. Motian follow his lead. (Mr. Motian is similarly oblique and headstrong, and this is a particularly good pairing of musicians.) He made the piano misbehave: it grew argumentative and disruptive; it mumbled and receded dramatically, like smoke after a shelling. But throughout his lines retained rhythmic authority and a kind of instant-composition coherence, and very little of it came through the usual routes of jazz piano history.
As a study in collective improvising, or maybe poetry or physics, it’s worth hearing again. Fortunately, you can: NPR streamed video and archived audio of the entire set. What you may also notice from listening to the set is the curious nature of Mr. Turner’s leadership. You saw his name on the sign outside, and he introduced the band at the end; one tune, “Sonnet for Stevie,” was his. Otherwise this band pulled all kinds of ways, seemingly by unseen forces. Mr. Turner let the music decide what it was going to do.
New York Times
The early 21st century has produced few more intelligent voices in contemporary jazz than saxophonist Mark Turner’s. A measured, yet emotionally evocative player, Turner has synthesized some of the structural improvisatory methods provided by Warne Marsh and Wayne Shorter and added language that’s entirely his own. SOLOS: The Jazz Sessions is an enlightening opportunity to hear Turner play unaccompanied as he talks (in the form of short “interviews”) about the theoretical components that he uses in building solos. Not surprisingly, Turner speaks with great clarity and insight about the nature of saxophone improvisation. But SOLOS is no dry piece of didacticism. His tenor playing is often moving and beautiful. Recorded particularly close, the listener hears every breath, every finger click; it’s impossible not to marvel at the range of control that Turner exhibits. “Velvet Underground” and “Berkeley Street” are good examples. Unhurriedly worked out, the saxophonist develops simple strands of thematic material – a scale here, an arpeggiated chord there, patterns played with one or two changing notes, each piece growing more complex, although never less transparent, as it goes. Turner also talks about his parents listening to Al Green and Stevie Wonder, suggesting that these were influences. “Beauty Mark” is as immaculately thought out as any Coltrane solo, but the playing is rhythmically more mathematical and more reserved. “TheBelmont” is a study in harmonics, with the tenor producing three and four note chords. It’s unusual to hear a saxophonist playing advanced harmonics in the pursuit of lyricism; prevailing perception typically links this approach to the more aggressive faction of the avant-garde. In a second interview, Turner talks about building a solo from one note, using it as a fulcrum off which chromatic intervals can be bounced.
The album concludes with the virtuosic “Murley’s in the House.” As with the other selections, Turner’s profound sense of architecture allows him to work convincingly without a band. And his breathtaking tone and total command through the tenor’s range elevates the performance to that of genuine artistry. SOLOS: The Jazz Sessions is work that should be required listening for all saxophonists. Its triumph is that it’s an equally compelling program for anyone else who may be interested in the current state of jazz improvisation.