Saxophonist Tim Armacost is a classic musician’s musician—a player who is unjustly obscure relative to the quality of his work and the caliber of his cohorts. More than 20 years ago, Armacost recorded Fire fronting a quartet with Kenny Barron, Gerald Cannon and Billy Hart. Time Being, the first album under his own name in nearly a decade, taps into the versatile expertise of Wynton Marsalis’ former rhythm section of bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, with pianist Dave Kikoski added on four of the 10 tunes. These first-call luminaries gravitate to Armacost because he is distinctively fluent in the midcentury styles of Coltrane, Rollins and Ornette yet doggedly on the prowl for innovative ways to tweak the tried-and-true.
The best example of this on Time Being is, as Armacost puts it in the liner notes, “the idea of people swinging at the same time but not together.” The musicians are free to launch their own interpretations of the changes or the groove, and to switch off among the options being presented. The gambit is gloriously executed on familiar material such as Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” and the leader’s “Sculpture #3 All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider,” which is grounded in the standard “All the Things You Are.” They help listeners better divine the same method as it is being implemented on originals like the title track and “Sculpture #2 Tempus Funkit.”
You can’t pull this off without sidemen who are both scholars and daredevils, and Armacost affords them plenty of space—the opener, “Alawain,” kicks off with a strummed solo from Hurst. The band also shines on more traditional interplay, be it Kikoski’s sensitive touch on the ballad “The Next 20” or Watts’ spiky fills on a cover of Monk’s “Teo.” (Armacost favors explosive drummers like Watts and Billy Hart, whose boldfaced punctuation furthers the flow with a soloist’s pugnacity.) Through it all, Armacost the tenor joins Armacost the conceptualist in unearthing new ways to assemble and express a cherished jazz vocabulary.
Preview, buy or download songs from the album Time Being by Tim Armacost on iTunes.