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Bill McHenry: La Peur du Vide

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La Peur Du Vide sits uneasily between straight-ahead and free jazz, occasionally tipping to one side or the other. It’s familiar ground for tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry-even more so for his quartet (pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Andrew Cyrille). By and large they handle this terrain superbly, solidifying the album’s aesthetic with their personalities and a deep sense of tradition.

Sometimes that tradition is overt. “In Sight” is a straight cooker with a boppish head and deadly swing. Elsewhere, the band stretches out but keeps a foot in blues harmony. Though much of “Recognition” comprises freeform, softly stated interplay between McHenry, Revis and Cyrille, McHenry maintains edgy tonality that solidifies into dark spiritual chords when Evans rejoins him to conclude the piece.

Four of the six tunes pay homage to McHenry’s favorite musicians, further unifying the program. “Today” was inspired by Stevie Wonder, whose style reverberates throughout McHenry’s two-octave melody and in the soul that Evans and Revis place behind that melody. “Siglo XX,” ostensibly a joint tribute to Woody Shaw and Paul Robeson, instead evokes Andrew Hill in its oblong structure and Evans’ lustrous, dissonant voicings; McHenry even suggests frequent Hill collaborator Joe Henderson with his middle-register vibrato.

That’s not a flaw, per se, though the album does have one. “Trillard,” a salute to Stacy Dillard, is essentially a series of long solos-too long. Even Cyrille, who’s made a tradition of solo drum performance, sounds run-on and disjointed here. It’s the only weakness in an otherwise masterly recording.

Originally Published