12/05/03

Elvin Jones Jazz Machine at the Blue Note

Elvin Jones’ drums are the engine that drive his Jazz Machine. He sits behind his set and the power flows. It’s not as if he makes everything seem effortless (as is sometimes said about drummers). You are aware of his ministrations because of the obvious impact he has on his musical cohorts. But for all that athletic vigor he is never obvious.

The parts of the Machine have changed since my last hearing: the Eubanks brothers, trombonist Robin and trumpeter Duane, and tenor saxophonist Mark Shim are relatively new. Jones’ rhythm-section fellows, pianist Carlos McKinney and bassist Gerald Cannon, have been with him for more than a couple of years.

Jones’ attributes were in evidence from his opening tom-toms on “Caravan.” Juan Tizol’s desert procession may be termed a warhorse but it’s an extremely durable one. “Caravan” is often used to “give the drummer some.” Jones’ solo, which came after the others had worked out, was terse, ending was a snare pop before the restatement of the theme. From the jump the undulating North African rhythms of the “A” sections gave way to swift 4/4 on the bridge, thereby creating the same kind of effect soloists experience coming out of a “break.” Robin Eubanks opening solo was fluent and vocal, sustaining interest with contrasting rhythmic approaches. Duane, one of a sudden flurry of new, young, talented trumpeters (Jeremy Pelt, Sean Jones), was Lee Morgan-esque: agile, joyfully explosive with both edge and lyricism. Sandwiched between the two brass soloists was Branford Marsalis, guesting on the first three nights of the engagement. He set himself up with “A Love Supreme” quote and them zoomed onto the bridge, his tenor purring down the open highway like a Mercedes.

Shim, following Duane Eubanks, spent a lot of time in the lower register where he put me in mind of Coleman Hawkins with more of an overall feeling and texture than direct reference. He has matured from his early Blue Note recordings and the experience with the Jazz Machine could be just the right kind of further seasoning. Gerald Cannon threaded a compelling and well-developed idea through his plucked solo, and Carlos McKinney used clusters (but not random) of chords in an energizing manner.

On the ensuing “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” McKinney displayed a singing, single-note line worthy of Wynton Kelly. Robin spiced his solo with a rush of notes that recalled Jimmy Cleveland, and Jones was the brush-master throughout.

Marsalis had the solo spotlight on “I Can’t Get Started” in a pianoless trio setting (a Sonny Rollins configuration) in which he harked back to the classic tenors of the ’30s and ’40s tonally and also sculpted some phrases reminiscent of Rollins. It was a performance of eloquence with brevity —a winning combination.

“A Night in Tunisia” followed a similar rhythmic structure as “Caravan” and by this time everyone, thoroughly heated, roared through the bridges with no stopping for tolls. “It Don’t Mean a Thing” closed the set, with Marsalis quoting from “Bebop” to launch his solo, McKinney inserting eight Monkish bars in his and Jones burning the final bridge behind him.

The Jazz Machine was hitting on its many cylinders.

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