March 26th, 2021
The Joys of Spring (Part 1)
Lots and lots of new music to absorb and enjoy. This is the beginning of a series of short reviews of new release.
The trio of Kelly Jefferson (tenor and soprano saxophones), Artie Roth (acoustic bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums, percussion, bass clarinet), a.k.a. TuneTown, are three of the busiest and creative musicians on the contemporary Canadian scene. Together since 2016, the trio released its debut in late Summer of 2019. That recording displayed myriad influences as well as the trio’s delight in creating its own sound. By the time that album was issued, they had already recorded their follow-up.
“Entering Utopia” (Three Pine Records) follows a similar format with originals from both Cervini and Roth, several group improvisations, and two standards. All three musicians are leaders, all are excellent musicians and improvisors, so this music breathes with excitement and adventure. The opener “Hello, Today” opens with Cervini hand-held percussion followed by a bluesy theme from Jefferson. When Roth joins, the drummer turns to the drums set, kicking his bandmates forward. Everybody solos but the last half of the track show hows closely the musicians listen to each other. Cervini’s “Layla Tov” (“Good Morning” or “Good Night” in Hebrew) opens with the bass and tenor sax holding one note while Cervini plays a melody on glockenspiel. The bassist introduces the main melody which Jefferson then picks up on soprano. Roth’s solo is quite melodic with just brushes-on-snare for accompaniment. The soprano solo that follows is emotionally rich, melodic, and heartfelt. Interspersed through the piece are the sounds of the drummer’s family at the beach (the baby’s infectious laughter is contagious).
Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” opens with a slow bass solo but soon the trio step out with Jefferson’s tenor rising above the rampaging rhythm section. Cervini’s “Billyish” is a good companion piece, it’s boppish head leading to a thundering drum solo before Jefferson’s tenor steps out. Roth’s thick bass sound gives the other two players a strong foundation to get creative. “Flood, Deluge” is the longest of four group improvisations on the album –– Roth’s droning then frantic arco bass sounds spark his companions to create their own paths in the song’s maze-like construction. The bassist’s “Memories Remain” is a lovely ballad during which the tenor sax and bass intertwine the melody through the opening several minutes. Roth’s highly melodic bass solo is supported by quiet brushes work and Jefferson’s breathy tenor notes. The bass counterpoint behind Jefferson’s lovely solo is stunning (and pay attention to how the drummer also gets in on the melody.
Roth’s short (30 seconds) multi-tracked bass feature, titled “Looking Glass“, serves as an introduction to “Blue Gardenia“, the album’s final track. Composed in 1953 by Lester Lee and Bob Russell for the Fritz Lang movie of the same name, the piece was performed by Nat “King” Cole. Several years later, Dinah Washington had a big hit with the song, so big that he became one of her “signature songs” through to the end of her career (1963). Cervini plays the melody on bass clarinet with Roth’s strummed bass as the only accompaniment until Jefferson enters on tenor to play harmony and counterpoint. The two reeds wind around each other throughout with Roth creating a comfortable cushion for their tuneful interactions.
“Entering Utopia” is a delightful musical vacation trip. Our three tour guides play with fervor, emotion, and plenty of joy plus the sound of the performances is powerful, clean, and clear. TuneTown is an apropos name for this fine trio!
For more information, go to tunetownjazz.com. To hear more and to purchase the album, go to. https://tunetownjazz.bandcamp.com/album/entering-utopia. Richard Kamins