Live at the Freight-- Jessica Jones & Mark Taylor

It's quite apparent that this quartet reached an exceptional level of cohesiveness by the end of its 2011 California tour, as can be heard on this CD recorded live at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, CA. It helps that the co-leaders, tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones and French horn player Mark Taylor, have similar backgrounds, and that bassist John Shifflet and drummer Jason Lewis have played together in various contexts for 25 years. Jones and Taylor both participated in the '80's progressive jazz scene in New York, with Jones going on to perform with the likes of Don Cherry, Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Steve Coleman, and Peter Apfelbaum's Hieroglyphics Ensemble, while Taylor played with artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, and Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus. The music on Live at the Freight has a sureness of purpose and direction, a natural fluidity, and is devoid of pretentiousness or overplaying. If there's enough material left over for a Volume Two, its release would be most welcome.

The contrapuntal interplay between Jones and Taylor on the theme reading of the latter's "Furious George" recalls both Gerry Mulligan from the early '50's with Chet Baker, and Ornette Coleman. Taylor, Jones, and Shifflet's solos soar on a heady foundation of blues and bop. Jones' "Waiting for the Vampire's Redemption" has an insinuating rubato opening with the composer in the lead, which soon evolves into an intertwining four-part free form conversation that intensifies in urgency before a reprise cools things down soothingly. Lewis' elaborate drum work adds significantly to the piece's well thought out ebb and flow. "By the Park at Midnight (Zamindar's Promenade)" is one of the two Taylor tunes on the CD inspired by his fictitious mysterious man of the world character that has also appeared on past Taylor recordings. This midnight walk in the park appears fraught with danger, as eerie, ghostly sounds percolate, skillfully rendered by Jones and Taylor as Shifflet's ostinato maintains a lurking presence and Lewis creates a variety of provocative aural effects. Taylor's absorbing solo ruminates, while Jones' improv spirals restlessly. Lewis's drum exposition is a fine lesson in dynamics, and Shifflet's arco dissonances cleverly lead back to the mournful legato theme.

"The Zamindar Gambit" commences with Taylor's call-to-arms intro and his and Jones' woven rendition of the central theme, as Shifflet and Lewis combine with stalking rhythmic insistence. Jones' solo is soulfully expressive, while Taylor's compelling statement has the French horn speaking in tongues. Shifflet's booming solo is soon transplanted by Jones and Taylor for a resolute reprise. Jones' tribute to Wayne Shorter, "Waynopolis," with Taylor on mellophone, is an ethereal composition with a loping rhythmic base. Jones' probing improvisation sets a deliberate, winding course that gradually sharpens, succeeded by Taylor's mellophone in an unpredictable exclamation played with a tonal quality centered between a flugelhorn and a trombone. Lewis is outstanding on this track, both in his complementary work behind the soloists and in his own riveting survey. Shifflet has the last say, and it's in keeping with the others in terms of quality and appeal. Taylor's on mellophone again for Jones' "Manhattan," and he and Jones make like Cherry and Coleman in this variably floating and edgy escapade. The solos from the duo are terse and swirling, while Shifflet's is brooding and becoming. Lewis arguably steals the show on this track, with engaging commentary and a solo of head turning vitality.

Taylor's dark-toned "Sketch #2" accentuates the group's rapport with simultaneous voicings of elevated substance. Taylor and especially Jones deliver solos possessing vocalized timbres that greatly enhance their messages. The bassist and drummer team up to create a vivid foundation that is never submerged, but rather is an integral part of this so-called "sketch." Jones' slippery and charming "What Purpose is Your Pain" first appeared on her 2008 Word CD, also with Taylor on board. The co-leaders mull over the theme in a refreshing dialogue. Tempo and textural changes by Lewis spice up the quartet's interaction, and the head's revisit satisfyingly resolves this airtight endeavor. "Breath.Eyes" is a Taylor opus that brings to mind Donovan's "Season of the Witch" in Shifflet's ongoing bass line, but the melody itself is far less ominous. The solos by Taylor, Jones, and Shifflet are enthusiastically explorative, again stimulated by Lewis' very active proddings, which can almost be viewed as a concurrent solo creation in itself. This closing track is final proof of this foursome's highly intuitive, well-synchronized connection.

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Scott Albin