Saturday, July 2, 2011

Marc Copland: Crosstalk

Pirouet Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Crosstalk

Musicians spend years learning to play an instrument well enough to earn a living performing with it; only a very few achieve that goal on more than one horn.

It’s relatively common to become fluent with several members of an instrument family: Those who can play the clarinet or alto sax are able to play the tenor sax; flutists and trumpeters often can perform on the flugelhorn and coronet. Less frequently, you’ll find musicians who can handle instruments that are less alike — both the trumpet and trombone, for example — and only a few become masters of “horns” in totally different families.

Marc Copland is one of those individuals. He was born in Philadelphia in 1948, and entered the jazz world playing alto sax. Although he experimented with an electronic version of the instrument, he became (in his words) “dissatisfied with the inherent limitations in the saxophone.” As a result, in the 1970s he relocated to the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area to become a jazz pianist. During the next decade, while learning his new instrument, he worked as an accompanist and sideman for artists such as Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer and Art Farmer. Copland moved to New York in the early ’80s, working both there and in D.C.; he also toured. Since 2000, he has concentrated on small combos, with increasing emphasis on solo work.

Crosstalk, recorded in 2010 in New Jersey, features Copland, Greg Osby (alto sax), Doug Weiss (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums). Osby, Weiss and Lewis have been part of the New York City jazz fraternity for years. The album was mastered at MSM Studios in Munich, and released by Pirouet Records from that same city.

Seven of these nine tracks were composed by these artists: three by Copland, two by Osby, and one each by Weiss and Lewis. Another was written by Gigi Gryce, while “Tenderly” (the only standard) is a Walter Gross standout.

This quartet’s musical genre is “chamber jazz.” The original tunes, done at balladic and mid-tempos, are thoughtful and complex at times, and melodically rich. That said, my favorite track is “Tenderly.” Not long ago, a jazz musician explained — in the liner notes of a recent album — that he always enjoys it when artists play a standard, because it gives him an opportunity to assess their originality and style, relative to that of other artists who’ve performed the same tune. I feel the same way. Copland and his combo have produced one of the most beautiful takes on “Tenderly” that I’ve ever heard; it alone is worth the price of the entire album.

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