John Lang: Lend Me Your Ears

Pick a club in the Big Apple and chances are John Lang has played there. The busy New York bassist-arranger-composer and occasional singer has released — with lots of help from his friends — his second album: a compilation of nine originals for two quintets and one octet (three tracks by each ) boasting no duplication of personnel; again much help from his fellow jazz cats. Of course, Lang is heard or felt on each track, so let’s feel or hear his concepts and share the good, the bad and the mediocre.

Lang’s charts tend to impede the swing; the writing is a bit too orchestral for small combos. Unmotivated changes, in harmonies and time signatures, inhibit solo sparks. That may work both ways: soloists are generally tentative, discouraging Lang from building arrangements around their musical personalities; that, in turn may account for his over-reliance on concerted sounds. Such is the problem with “Art Lovers,” a busy tribute to Art Blakey. Despite good solos from trumpeter Bill Mobley and tenorist Andy Hunter, the chart is held back by annoying, repetitious comping and unnecessary 5/4 backing. A similar, cluttered background — this time a relentless pedal point on “Tribulation,” juxtaposed with double-time episodes, prevents any building of momentum by trumpeter Nathan Eklund and trombonist David Noland. Adding insult to injury on the 3/4 “Communion,” pianist Ehud Asherie has to cope with an out-of-tune keyboard. If you can forgive that transgression, redemption lies in the gospel waltz itself: its laid-back infectious tempo; the clear, short melody statements by trombonist Andy Noland and trumpeter Mobley; above all, the power generated by the free jazz out chorus, with tenorist Craig Yaremko and altoist Erik Lawrence added to the octet’s front line. Fine bop unison lines for “Scuttle the Muttle,” plus effective doublings: Lang’s bass with tenorist Kim Bock; then Lang under trumpeter David Smith. One unusual doubling I learned to appreciate with repeated hearings: “The Opera Chick.” Sounds like an 8-bar walking motif repeated over and over. It also sounds like Lang’s acoustic is too prominent, but that becomes part of its hypnotic charm. By the end, with Lang and pianist Asherie doubling the motif from the bowels of their instruments, you’ll wish it didn’t end so abruptly.

Kudos to trumpeter Smith for the surprising quote from Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacock” in the midst of his “Optimystical” solo: and to Smith again for listening carefully and “answering” licks by his front-line partner, tenorist Kim Bock, while they trade eights and fours on the title tune. When Smith becomes pointillistic, David digs in until Bock “points” in the same direction. While pianist Jeremy Manasia, drummer Brian Floody and Lang wail away, engineer/guitarist Saul Rubin begins a well-controlled fade. Apparently, one mic disobeyed, leaving poor Manasia all alone. First time I ever heard a comp solo.