Judged by current demographics, bassist Eric Revis’ second album as a leader brings together a Chicagoan (tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark) and three New Yorkers (Revis, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Nasheet Waits). But you get a stronger sense of the sprawl—attitudinal and stylistic—that defines Parallax by factoring in the musicians’ hometowns. Revis, a longtime cohort of Branford Marsalis, is a Los Angeles native (who spent significant time in New Orleans). Moran is from Houston. Vandermark grew up in Boston. Waits is a born-and-bred New Yorker.
Born of fateful cross-connections—Revis and Waits came to Vandermark through their shared association with Peter Brötzmann; Moran gained access to the Windy City scene through a late association with Von Freeman—the quartet thrives on fresh cross currents. Prompted by the leader’s aggressive tones, the playing is edgy and raw, with relentless, dark undercurrents and shifting centers. On songs such as Vandermark’s peppy “Split,” his corrosive but groove-minded tenor matches up intriguingly with Moran’s open-field notes and stringent anchoring chords. Elsewhere, Waits’ sweeping, wide-angled strokes wrap around the grounding basslines to animate the music.
A pair of early classics take Vandermark out of his comfort zone: Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” which is deconstructed and then teasingly reclaimed melodically, and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues,” which is all thrusting and stabbing rhythmically. While the former strains a bit for cohesion, the latter wears its modernism to resounding effect. In the end, Parallax scores by taking all of these prodigious, likeminded individuals into a new arena. The eagerness and openness with which they relate is downright all-American.