1. Mystery Prelude (Burton/McPherson)
2. Freeflow (Ban)
3. Obsolete (Ban)
4. Serenade (for andrew hill) (Hébert)
5. Of Things To Come (Ban)
6. Silence (almost) (Ban)
7. Rank & File (Ban)
8. Outro (of things that flow) (Ban)
CD Quality - 16 bit / 44.1 khz
Many musicians who play jazz or its offshoots find themselves wondering at some point in their career where they stand in relation to the jazz tradition. While many have made careers out of treading out material from the past there are others who have expanded the range of the music so that it hardly resembles jazz.
Pianist/composer Lucian Ban has maintained a foothold in both “the tradition” and the avant-garde. He has managed to make a niche for himself performing with musicians who skirt the realms of jazz, classical, and new music. Ban has forged a unique musical identity, regardless of whether he would be deemed contemporary, preferring to try many styles and approaches as long as he is playing with the best.
Among the tremendous musicians Ban has worked with since his arrival from Romania in 1999 are greats like tuba master Bob Stewart, viola player Mat Maneri, and saxophonists Alex Harding and Sam Newsome. A recent project was the reimagining of music of Romanian composer Georges Enesco with a modern ensemble featuring saxophonist Tony Malaby, tabla player Badal Roy, and trumpeter Ralph Alessi.
With all this in mind, Ban instituted an ensemble called Elevation. The group was designed around the classic jazz quartet model. Ban enlisted saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Eric McPherson, both of whom come from a traditional jazz background. The highly in demand bassist John Hébert has rounded out the group, a player who has been equally versed in the in and out sides of the music. Ban’s goal was to promote the unique tensions provided by Burton’s hard-bop influenced style against the music he wrote for the group.
On the group’s new album, Mystery, Ban has presented an enticing blend of classic and creative sounds, which have created fascinating tensions unique to the ensemble. The music was recorded by Jimmy Katz at Cornelia St. Café in New York and the live element adds an intensity that Ban felt wouldn’t have been present in a studio recording. It also captured an ensemble fresh from a US and European tour and willing to take all risks.
Ban had met Burton in 2006 through drummer Bruce Cox, who recommended they meet and perform together. The saxophonist has been well versed, having mastered the jazz idiom, most notably with a long tenure with drummer Art Taylor. Ban mentioned that he felt that Burton’s sense of melody was astounding. Though the two come from different worlds, musically, they have worked together well in this ensemble because of their willingness to take risks to create genuinely openhearted music.
To enhance the element of chance, Ban has never told the musicians how to approach the music. Burton’s unique sound along with the dynamic, rhythmic relationship between Hébert and McPherson (the two have played in trios of both Andrew Hill and Fred Hersch) has fostered a sound world of the music proposed and the mastery of the players.
The record begins with “Mystery Prelude,” a duet between Burton and McPherson with the only instruction to “be mysterious” – which they handle admirably. “Freeflow” is a Ban original that begins with a solemn piano joined by the saxophone in an uplifting melody as the track evolves into an expressive free tour de force, ending after Ban’s solo in a suspended air. “Obsolete” is a feature for John Hébert’s solo bass, showcasing his complete control over the instrument, the advanced solo conceived as a preface for Ban’s “Serenade (for Andrew Hill),” a fitting tribute to the master composer/pianist, featuring some amazingly advanced playing from his former sidemen in trio with Ban at his most risktaking.
“Of Things To Come” has a relatively simple A-B structure - with a quirky, written section followed by Burton’s improvisation over a harmonic progression - built as a pretext for the accompanying solos, which create alternating moods of tension and release. “Silence (Almost)” is a sparse composition, on which Ban had intended “to play less.” Echoing the ballads of Paul Bley, the notes really resonate here and Burton creates an intriguing drama as he relates to the changes. “Rank & File” is written with an intended folk music element, much like the music of Ornette Coleman, and shows the true genius of McPherson’s approach to time and improvisation along with a stunning solo from Burton. The record concludes with “Outro (Of Things That Flow)” which corresponds directly to “Freeflow” with a quiet, fading piano cadenza completing the arc of the record.
Elevation has established itself as a unique voice in the world of jazz. The group has taken elements of modern jazz and the avant-garde, employing musicians who have been movers in both, creating an original direction. Mystery has proven to be a perfect encapsulation of Elevation’s action and purpose.
released September 10, 2013
Lucian Ban - piano
Abraham Burton - tenor sax
John Hébert - bass
Eric McPherson - drums