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January/February 2005

Elvin Jones Jazz Machine
The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note
Half Note Records

The band that made The Truth, which probably never toured and definitely never recorded again, is just one among dozens of personnel configurations that, over approximately 30 years, Elvin Jones called the Jazz Machine. But there is a special emotional resonance surrounding this album, because it was one of Jones' last recorded performances, released after his May 2004 death.

Recorded in 1999, when he was at full strength, this was a night for hard blowing at the Blue Note. Theme statements are there to kick off soloists, who spill their guts, pushed by Jones' "thrashing and cursing" (in Amiri Baraka's memorable description). Each tune features only one soloist from the sextet-plus Elvin. Trumpeter Darren Barrett, the least interesting improviser here, has two numbers, "E.J.'s Blues" and "Three Card Molly." Trombonist Robin Eubanks blusters all over "Straight No Chaser." Soprano saxophonist Antoine Roney is quasi-Coltrane on the title track. Pianist Carlos McKinney is dramatically discursive on the 12-minute "Wise One." Tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker offers a comprehensive consideration of "Body and Soul" and a hammering, braying catharsis called "A Lullaby of Itsugo Village." And Jones clatters polyrhythms wherever he pleases.

In Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, a character who has died is given an opportunity to return to one day of her life. "Choose an ordinary day," she is advised. "Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough." The Truth preserves one ordinary night in a club among thousands in the career of Elvin Jones, and it is important enough.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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