It is impressive when an artist can effectively replicate a work that was conceived in a recording studio in a live environment. Normally, this feat borders on impossible, as conditions must be just right, as do the collaborators and the material.
Saxophonist/composer Wayne Escoffery was able to walk these fine lines for his new recording Live at Firehouse 12, a stunning collection of music written and arranged for his unique quintet featuring two keyboardists. Escoffery was fortunate to find perfect conditions for the recording at the highly regarded jazz club Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut, where the saxophonist spent his teenage years and learned to love jazz.
Escoffery has been an important figure in the New York City jazz community since his arrival from the Hartford based Hartt School, where he studied with Jackie McLean, and the Thelonious Monk Institute at the New England Conservatory. Since then, the saxophonist has performed with groups as diverse as the Mingus Big Band, Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet and Tom Harrell’s Quintet.
Escoffery has also led a number of his own ensembles. In 2012, he introduced a new quintet that featured two keyboardists, one on acoustic piano and the other on synthesizers. His work with this group produced his Sunnyside recording, The Only Son of One, a striking and open-hearted collection of compositions written about his childhood sojourn with his mother away from an abusive father in London, ultimately arriving in his adopted home of New Haven.
Feeding off the success of the new ensemble, Escoffery decided to take the show on the road. Live at Firehouse 12 was recorded to document the quintet at full force and as a companion piece and sequel to The Only Son of One. Firehouse 12 in New Haven provided a great location for the group to put its capabilities on full display amongst family, old friends, former teachers, students and fans.
This particular iteration of the quintet returned both pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Jason Brown from the sessions that produced The Only Son of One. Escoffery added the marvelous Rachel Z to the quintet, famous for her exemplary work with Najee, Wayne Shorter and fusion masters Steps Ahead. The great Rashaan Carter was added on bass.
The recording begins with saxophone and synth duo “ZWE1,” which puts Rachel Z’s stunning textural skill on display alongside Escoffery’s lithe horn lines. The quintet revisits Escoffery’s episodic “Gulf of Aqaba,” an appropriately Eastern tinged piece recounting the saxophonist’s experience at the Red Sea Festival in Eilat, Israel. A melancholy rendition of “The Only Son of One” follows, featuring a moving intro by Z and a heartfelt reading by the full ensemble. Closing the program is Esmond Edward’s “Blue Monsoon,” a piece originally recorded by one of Escoffery’s favorite saxophonist Sonny Stitt, which allows the saxophonist to really stretch along in front of a tremendous groove established by the ensemble.
Live at Firehouse 12 should stand as a testament to the brilliance and talent of Wayne Escoffery. His unique musical vision has put his music on the boundaries of both classic jazz and contemporary music.
released March 4, 2014
Wayne Escoffery - tenor saxophone
Rachel Z - keyboards
Orrin Evans - piano
Rashaan Carter - bass
Jason Brown - drums