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Mark Turner: Dharma Days

Mark Turner’s tenor-sax tone is personal indeed: light, especially in his high ranges, and almost wholly uninflected (he does present the occasional tiny, very slow vibrato). The twisting, leaping theme phrases of the opening “Iverson’s Odyssey” announce Tristanolike optimism; the second track, “Deserted Floor,” is in a vague, wistful mood that recalls some Wayne Shorter modal pieces; the rest of the CD also veers between brightness and fuzzy modal melancholy. Turner is an eclectic who sets daunting challenges. The contrary concepts of Shorter (control) and Warne Marsh (spontaneity, harmonic daring) especially, and sometimes others such as Coltrane (motivic variations) and Getz (falling sequences) emerge in his improvising. Sometimes he’s quite ingenious. The unaccompanied tenor solo that opens “Myron’s World” has sudden jumps and turns like a slowed-down Marsh; late in that piece Turner gets up a circa-1965 Shorter head of steam in a fast solo. The shape of Turner’s solo in the title track is also notable, as are his abrupt stylistic switches in “Iverson’s.” No, he doesn’t reconcile such disparate directions into a consistent style, but he’s often quite imaginative here.

Changes of group textures, tempo and direction are frequent. The Turner quartet’s idiom is a latter-day version of the modal-to-free explorations by early ’60s Blue Note youth (Hill, Chambers, Hutcherson, etc.). It was a slippery music then, and no wonder that this group occasionally slips, too. I like the straightahead directness of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s guitar solos as well as his boldness in response, counterpoint and accompaniment to Turner. Reid Anderson generally manages the trick of playing contrapuntal, complementary bass lines without focusing undue attention on himself. At best Nasheet Waits’ busy drumming is stimulating, gutsy; sometimes, though, he gets carried away by his enthusiasm. The long-tone, wistful ballad moods on this CD become repetitious, but the peppery pieces are full of life and should be heard.

Originally Published