Jan 17 2013
There are times I want to give advice about albums similar to how I would about a slowly-developing book or tv show. I want to say things like, “The first couple episodes move a bit slow, but then things take off after that” or “Don’t quit on the book after one chapter, because it gets much better.” But the thing of it is, perhaps those kind of warnings ruin the wonderful surprise that comes later. It’s that type of conundrum that some albums leave me with when I write for this site.
The Chris Greene Quartet recording A Group Effort is one such album. Recorded live at Chicago’s Mayne Stage Theater, the first album track is an introduction by William Kurk. It’s amusing in its way. Second album track “Bride of Mr. Congeniality” is a perfectly nice post-bop tune with a lighthearted groove. With the deluge of new jazz releases that drop from week to week, we live in a time when first impressions raise the stakes and early connections are king. Sometimes we move on to the next thing a bit too quickly.
And that’s why I’m saying just hold on a bit.
Your album personnel: Chris Greene (tenor & soprano sax), Damian Espinosa (piano, keyboards), Marc Piane (double bass), and Steve Corley (drums, percussion).
Third track “Shore Up” is why I’m glad I didn’t move on too quickly to the next CD on the stack of new arrivals. It opens with a simple yet potent repetition by bassist Piane, followed by Espinosa’s quixotic piano lines and the gentle tap of drums by Corley. When Greene enters on tenor sax, it has that evocative slow burn sound of Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle quartet, echoing the smiling weariness of “One for Amos” in how it’s both dark and hopeful simultaneously. I don’t think one can understate the value of a song that presents a contrasting emotional template within the same set of notes while giving complexities one simple sole voice. It doesn’t happen near as often as it should. It’s also why I hesitated bringing it up at all. It’s the kind of thing best discovered on one’s own. I almost feel like I should’ve written “Spoilers Ahead” at the top of the article.
But the thing of it is, this album isn’t simply strong echoes of past music. Greene expresses his post-bop sound through different facets. The rapid Latin rhythms of “Future Emperor of Evanston” mesh nicely with Greene’s sudden shifts between languid stroll and mad dash. “Stat” sees Espinosa switching from piano to keys to provide the soul of a funk groove, while Greene switches to soprano to provide some buoyancy in contrast to the nifty grind. “Three & Six” is a ballad at heart, but Greene’s tenor sax gets the blood pumping strong and Espinosa, who begins with a whisper on piano, builds up to match Greene’s pulse on sax. Their rendition of Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa” has Corley throwing down a gauntlet on drums that dares the other quartet members to match his fervor.
And there’s a lot of that throughout A Group Effort. Live recordings are tricky for a variety of reasons. Sound quality, obviously, being one. Having listened to both the CD and MP3 versions of the album, I feel comfortable stating that fidelity won’t be an issue for anybody. Another potential obstacle to overcome on a live recording is making sure that the energy of the performance makes it to the recorded medium, while simultaneously avoiding a tendency to overdo it. Plenty of times I’ve heard live recordings, intended for retail distribution, that just sounded like the musicians got a bit too exuberant in their attempt to bring the stage to the stereo. The thing of it is, the best live performance recordings don’t leave their mark as a measurement of kinetic energy or volume. The key lies in how faithfully the recording reflects the live experience. Does it make the listener feel as if they were present when it happened? Does it provide the listener an approximation of having been there? On this, the Chris Greene Quartet sounds to have succeeded. The fervor of the quartet comes through best of all, but it would mean nothing if the hushed moments didn’t make it across, too.
This is one of those solid albums that deserves some attention, both as a quality recording, but also as a signpost of who to follow down the road. Greene appears to keep an active performance schedule, so you lucky bastards back in Chicago should take advantage.
Self-Produced, but released on Greene’s Single Malt Recordings label.
Jazz from the Chicago scene.
You can stream the entire album, and purchase it, on Greene’s bandcamp page. Worth noting that the Bandcamp version of the album has three bonus tracks totaling an additional 35 minutes of music from the same performance. These bonus tracks don’t appear to be on the CD or on the MP3 albums available at other retail outlets.