There are 1000 really good tenor saxophone players in the naked city. Mark Turner is one of the half dozen great tenor saxophonists in the world. Turner is the instrument as his saxophone is merely the vessel from which the total lyrical command of his music begins to spring forth. The 1957 Sonny Rollins classic Way Out West has been and will continue to be the standard that the piano less trio still strives to either meet or exceed. In some ways the trio known as Fly do both and on the visceral as well as the cerebral level. Year Of The Snake may not only be one of the finest ECM releases half way through 2012 but will certainly be a tough one to match for artists going forward.
The trio is rounded out with double-bassist Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on drums. This organic trio brings together the collective expansive knowledge of experience into a tighter more cohesive format while still pushing the boundaries for the musicians and the audience as well. This cohesive exploratory is exemplified with multiple compositions coming from each member. Turner's name seems to be showing up on a great many releases including the Billy Hart All Our Reasons which while an expansive showcase for Turner, Year Of The Snake is somewhat more thoughtful and introspective. Turner seems to be on a slow simmer while Ballard's drumming is a consistent in that the rhythmic patterns are constantly shifting on the fly as bassist Grenadier plays the musical yin to Turner's yang. The end result being the shifting dynamics of a rhythmic sense of purpose while never losing that less is more approach that is so inviting. Drummer Ballard is the founding member of Fly and did during a period of working with Chick Corea. The obvious chemistry of the trio caught the immediate attention of Brad Mehldau who quickly snatched up both Grenadier and Ballard as his own rhythm section. And who said good help is hard to find?
"The Western Lands I" is a Turner composition which leads off with a slow introspective all most melancholy solo with the finesse of drummer Ballard building on the deceptively subtle quality of the lyrical engagement between Turner and the use of the bow by bassist Grenadier. Precise and methodical as a surgeon but with a mysterious ambient flair to this most captivating of tunes. "Diorite" is from drummer Jeffrey Ballard who seems to embrace the less is more zen like approach while Turner's expressive solo dances across the sonic landscape with an intriguing syncopated articulation other tenor players may struggle with in presentation. Ballard's rhythmic sense of purpose propels Turner and Grenadier while pushing their lyrical creativity this trio sounds much larger. "Kingston" is a Grenadier composition where that magical virtual three dimensional sonic depth of field is transferred to the listener in a free jazz "lite" format but never pushing the boundaries of accessibility.
While Turner takes the lyrical lead for all the blatantly obvious reasons this is indeed a fully functioning trio in every sense of the word. Turner has a command of his instrument that players twenty years his senior are still searching for. Grenadier's versatility with the double bass and occasional bow work which provides an exhilarating textural counterpoint are spot on. Jeff Ballard is the perfect drummer for this trio. Ballard exhibits flair and finesse and the ability to start and stop both his rhythmic and dynamic changes on a dime.
While all three member of Fly are more than accomplished musicians the reason this trio works on every possible level is that the music is pushed forward, not the artist or the creative impulse of ego run wild.
Year Of The Snake is all about the music and earns 5 huge stars as they are my musical easy button!
Tracks: The Western Lands I; Festival Tune; The Western Lands II; Brothersister; Diorite; Kingston; Salt and Pepper; The Western Lands III; Benj; Year of the Snake; The Western Lands IV; The Western Lands V.
Personnel: Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier: double-bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.