A confession: an Ellington fanatic like me went straight to Track #6 when I put on the latest release by the Chris Greene Quartet. Track #6 is Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” a song that Duke Ellington immortalized in a piano solo version after Strayhorne’s death. I figured if this quartet could nail this on in their own way; the rest
of this is easy. The song is timeless.
Greene, a Chicago based saxophonist with a reputation for playing accessible and traditional jazz, is up to the test. On “Lotus Blossom,” he gets his band to deliver the tune by doing as Duke would urge: state the theme, and play in his own unique voice. Greene
follows Strayhorne’s script but does it with a rich and robust sax that is versatile, and flexible for the listener. Drummer, Tyrone Blair provides some of that famous Ellington color (appropriate here too), but this version of “Lotus Blossom” is its own person, a truly engaging take on a special composition.
The rest of Merge does not disappoint either. These are powerful jazz songs that reach out to the listener, and seem purposely modern. Damian Espinoza, piano, and keyboards provides some of that on another of tunes such as “You’ll Thank Me Later,” and Marc Plane is there as well especially on “Borderline,” the famous Madonna hit from the 1980’s. Greene, as he is apt to do, is not afraid to link jazz to popular music considering that has always been true of the music. The inclusion of a take of “Borderline” is clear evidence of that commitment to push at jazz’s edges.
But this quartet, led by Chris Greene, is not necessarily good because of a popular approach to jazz but mostly because they include enough traditional elements, and excellence in their sound to retain the passion that good jazz music always seems to possess. “I.F.E.I (Let’s Get It Started)” is that type of song, as it fuses modern elements
with the nuances of tradition and delivers a powerful jam that has a home in old jazz houses as well as street parties. This versatility is the true magic of Merge.