Jazz Music, Vol. X
Can there really have been eight volumes of The Fensters since their stimulating Vol. 1, recorded for Arta in 1992? No, it turns out that the X in the title is not the Roman numeral ten, but the letter between W and Z. That's Fenster humor, which also manifests itself in their music. The humor is dark in "Lions, Tigers and Bears," with its gleefully perverse vocal warning about predator consumption. It is lighthearted as they sing and play Fats Waller's "The Joint Is Jumpin'." It is subtle throughout, in rhythm patterns, intervals, relationships between instruments and the attitude that there's fun in making serious music.
There's Vol. 1, The Fensters demonstrate allegiance to the jazz tradition, but also explore its outer edges. The last time out, they ranged back only as far as Sonny Rollins' "The Bridge." Here, saxophonists Francois Theberge and Andy Middleton, bassist Paul Imm and drummer Alan Jones revisit Duke Ellington's "Dancers In Love" as well as the Waller piece. While observing the imperative to swing, the music has the airiness of freedom within wide bounds of harmonic choices in improvisation.
All four Fensters compose and arrange. The variety of the writing avoids the sound-alike boredom that plagues so many albums of originals by young musicians. Imm's "mysterious" "It's A Longer Walk Home Than You Think," Jones' "The Shower of Hericlitis (sic)," and Middleton's "Frankly" (with its echoes of "Dancers In Love") are standouts, but there's not a dull composition among the eight. Most important, the playing by all hands is superb.
In line with The Fensters' unorthodoxy, the CD package contains only one endorsement blurb-from a pair of wine merchants. I'll drink to that, and to this stimulating album.