Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Imagery Manifesto - Chad Lefkowitz-Brown

Personnel: Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone; Travis Reuter: guitar; Sam Harris: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet.

The recording’s first cut, “A Turbulent Drift,” has a slow, out-of-tempo beginning with some gentle improvising from Reuter and the other rhythm players.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown  and O’Farrill play a slow theme in harmony with Reuter playing a counter melody.  A mid-tempo groove kicks in with guitar, sax, and trumpet playing in unison on a fast, intricate line.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill then play a dramatic melody in unison with Reuter adding some echoing guitar notes in accompaniment.  Lefkowitz-Brown begins some tentative improvising with accompaniment from Salters and Oh, with Harris eventually joining in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown starts playing in earnest, spinning out some impressive lines, occasionally swooping into the altissimo.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a big, open sound that is distinctively vocal and emotion-tinged.  After a repeat of the intricate trumpet/sax line, Reuter contributes a slick solo, employing a slightly distorted tone.  Trumpet and sax provide a repetitive, dramatic background, and the cut ends abruptly.

“Still Here” starts out with Lefkowitz-Brown playing a light, pretty, lower mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill joins in and he and Lefkowitz-Brown play the theme in unison.  Then the tenor and trumpet play a second, more dramatic theme in unison.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a solo starting with some delicate, intricate lines and evolving into gutsier stuff, getting some energetic accompaniment from Harris and especially Salters.  O’Farrill then patiently constructs a musical and imaginative solo, with a good use of space—less linear than Lefkowitz-Brown, but intelligent and varied.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and Reuter play the first theme, with the guitarist eventually adding some echo effects.  The cut closes quietly on a Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeated line.

“Manic Panic” has an upper mid-tempo, march-like theme played by trumpet and sax.  Reuter and Lefkowitz-Brown then trade improvised choruses, Reuter using a distorted tone, the saxophonist firing off lightning-fast phrases.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrrill repeat the theme and Lefkowitz-Brown  improvises to close out the cut.

“Where the Wild Things Are” begins with some quiet interplay between the rhythm players, and then piano and bass break into an ostinato.  Trumpet and sax begin playing in harmony and then they move into a pretty, mid-tempo theme, playing in unison, with Reuter joining in.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a well-controlled, melodic solo, Salters pushing hard behind him.  Reuter adds a solo with a very distorted guitar sound, sometimes sounding like a synthesizer.  Then he provides an echoing background and Harris plays a repeated piano figure as Salters plays a dynamic, high-speed solo.  The group stops and re-sets, and Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeat the theme to close the cut.

“Tooth and Fang (Intro)” is a strumming bass solo from Oh, showing off her big, ringing tone.  For “Tooth and Fang” she plays a repeated figure and the rest of the rhythm players join in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill join on a dramatic, driving mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill plays a reflective solo, taking his time with each phrase.  Then Reuter plays a solo with intricate, imaginative lines and plenty of distortion.  Trumpet and tenor repeat the theme, and the cut ends without any solo from Lefkowitz-Brown.  This cut has exceptional pacing and rhythm section accompaniment throughout.

“Eastern Flower” has a lower mid-tempo, vaguely oriental theme, played by Lefkowitz-Brown with a full, supple tone and gentle vibrato.  Harris then plays an airy, slightly jangly solo with each hand playing a different melody.  Lefkowitz-Brown then repeats the theme and ends the cut, again choosing not to solo.

“With Bated Breath” has a suspenseful, upper mid-tempo theme with trumpet and tenor in unison.  Then Harris plays a cagey, exploratory piano solo, like he’s working out a complex mathematical problem on the keyboard.  O’Farrill plays a well-developed solo with a little more fire than usual, and Lefkowitz-Brown contributes his own well-constructed solo with clean, slippery lines.

“Time & Space” starts with Lefkowitz-Brown slowly playing a melody, his tone lush and gentle.  O’Farrill joins him on the ballad-like theme (though with Lefkowitz-Brown sounding so good on his own, I wish the trumpet had laid out on this one) with a repeated guitar phrase in the background.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a graceful solo with patterns and runs reminiscent of Chris Potter.  O’Farrill then plays a solo, though Reuter’s echo effects in the background are distracting; even O’Farrill sounds distracted.  The sax and trumpet play the theme again, and Salters plays another dynamic solo, with a bass and piano pattern behind him, and the cut fades out.

“The End” has a plaintive, lower mid-tempo theme with sax and trumpet in harmony and more echo effects from Reuter.  O’Farrill then plays a thoughtful and soulful solo, a good combination of head and heart.  Reuter then plays a distorted solo of complex, interesting patterns.  Surprisingly, Lefkowitz-Brown chooses not to solo on the final cut.

Imagery Manifesto is an impressive debut, with lyrical, complex compositions and excellent musicianship all the way around.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a sumptuous, powerful sound on the tenor sax and a melodic, virtuosic style similar to Chris Potter’s, though not quite as flashy and a bit more “romantic.”  As good as his composing is, though, he makes some peculiar choices on this recording, like not soloing on three of the recording’s nine cuts and Reuter’s obtrusive background echo effects.  And sometimes the compositions seem overly complex; I wish Lefkowitz-Brown had included a couple of cuts with just him and a trio.  But as a declaration that an excellent new tenor sax player and jazz composer is on the scene, Imagery Manifesto works very well, and it strongly suggests a promising musical future for Lefkowitz-Brown. 

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