Sleep Won't Come
The title refers not only to the eponymous composition and the general vibe, but also to the trumpeter's occasional affliction. The artwork includes a few shots of John McNeil cheerfully posing with cup of coffee and red, puffy eyes the size of half-dollars. Because, one supposes, there isn't a lot going on outside when insomniacs suffer most acutely, music touching on the subject tends to give drummers-sources of racket and drive-the night off. So it is with the trumpeter, who recruits two Coloradoans, pianist Jeff Jenkins and bassist Kent McLagan, and no drummers for this CD.
There is a schizophrenic quality to Sleep Won't Come, which is probably McNeil's intent. The recording shifts constantly between restless and arch music punctuated with dramatic silences and gentle, airy ballads, which tend to draw out a serious Miles Davis trip in McNeil. The title track is the prime suspect. McNeil relies heavily on Jenkins, who has a lot to do with this schizophrenia. Here and there a Bud Powell approach comes out in his playing but for much of the disc, Jenkins plays with only two gears. On pieces like "The Other World," he attacks the piano with dense chord clusters and builds solos around drones and repeated notes. On the traditional "The Water Is Wide," he's all gently splayed chords and breezy romance. McNeil himself prefers the middle register, where he plays with an overripe, buzzy tone, saving upper-note squeals for emphasis. He isn't sharp everywhere, but still has his moments.