Wayne Escoffery Quintet – “Live at Firehouse 12”


Wayne Escoffery - "Live at Firehouse 12"There’s an intriguing blend of influences on this live recording from tenor man Wayne Escoffery.  An electro-acoustic presentation, Escoffery’s dazzling articulation and fiery delivery on tenor sax is juxtaposed with the keyboard electronics of Rachel Z.  And while the electronics on Live at Firehouse 12 do occasionally pool deeply in sections, Escoffery’s presence on sax transcends them for something quite cinematic and edgy.

Your album personnel:  Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Rachel Z (keyboards), Orrin Evans (piano), Rashaan Carter (bass), and Jason Brown (drums).

Opening track “ZWE1” harkens back to the odd jazz-new age pairings of the 80s & 90s, presented as an updated version of the Archie Shepp and Jasper Van’t Hof duo collaborations.  Rachel Z’s laser beam show on synths is all kinds of trip-happy, an ambiance directly contradicted by Escoffery’s deep lyricism, resulting in a song that is effusive and introspective both.

“Gulf of Aqaba” cuts to the heart of what makes this album special.  Escoffery’s solo gradually builds up to a focused windstorm, a thrilling intensity enhanced that much more by the buffeting waves of electronic fusion.  The contrasting sounds of post-bop’s fiery edge and modern fusion’s shimmering waves fit together so splendidly, one feeding off the other, that it inspires the question of why this isn’t done more often.  The answer to that question is immediately provided by the breakdown of Escoffery’s solo and the transition to an (initially) brooding piano solo that go through a similar rise and crest… this kind of thing ain’t easy to pull off.  But they do.

The synths and keyboards of Rachel Z and the piano of Orrin Evans come from two different worlds, would, initially, seem to be at odds, but the way their cross-purposes mesh into a unified front… this is the kind of brilliant turn of events that mark this album’s talent and its execution.

This particular album’s sound doesn’t come as much of a surprise.  Escoffery’s previous recording, the 2012 release The Only Son of One, was moving toward the electro-acoustic outburst that signifies Escoffery’s newest.  Adam Holzman did some fusion-y things on keyboards and Orrin Evans worked a Rhodes for that session, which lent the recording an even fuzzier atmosphere.  On his newest, Escoffery’s quintet performs the title track from the 2012 release.  That the two renditions sound remarkably similar serves as further evidence that Escoffery is following a logical creative arc.

The album concludes with “Blue Monsoon,” which starts out with a thoughtful Escoffery solo, then breaks through to the other side with some joyful straight-ahead post-bop.  Anchored by the bass & drums duo of Carter and Brown, who, for most of this track, bring a refreshing bit of predictability with which to better measure the album’s more surprising expressions.

An album with a very distinct personality.

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon: CDMP3