Adam Kolker’s albums on the Sunnyside label, now up to four, constitute one of the great stealth saxophone discographies of new-millennium jazz. What makes Kolker special is the combination of his light touch and his radical ideas. Lyric subtlety does not often coincide with a rebellious mindset.
Kolker’s original plan for Lost was an album of Wayne Shorter tunes. Only two tracks turned out to be Shorter compositions, but his spirit hovers over this record. Clearly, Kolker is aware of Shorter’s modal harmonic concepts as a basis for improvisation.
The first track, “The Time of the Barracudas,” reveals two things about Kolker: his flair for interpretation and the complexity of his relationship to Shorter. On the 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans, the piece begins with a simple rhythmic figure, obsessively repeated, and then becomes a vast orchestral landscape, the backdrop for a powerful tenor solo by Shorter. This expansive Evans classic is rarely covered by small ensembles. Kolker’s quartet arrangement gives the repeated figure to pianist Bruce Barth and proceeds directly to his own tenor solo, which selects fragmentary excerpts from Shorter’s long calls to make a new, free design.
The two Shorter compositions are medium waltzes, “Lost” and “Dance Cadaverous,” both veering and mysterious in Shorter’s original versions. Kolker’s “Lost” is looser, darker, and even more ambiguous. On “Dance Cadaverous,” Kolker, on soprano, overwhelms the chromatic chord changes with fresh content in a long, quietly passionate flowing.
Kolker has few current peers as an interpreter of standard ballads. On “While My Lady Sleeps” and “Darn That Dream,” he lavishes love on two enduring melodies even as he rephrases, reharmonizes, and rethinks them.
The band contains strong longtime collaborators. Barth’s comping is challenging and his solos extend Kolker’s creativity. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Billy Hart continuously conjure variable energy.