Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Roy Nathanson's "Nearness and You"

Roy Nathanson's a New York-based saxophonist who's co-led the Jazz Passengers -- whose music juxtaposes lounge jazz and freeblow -- with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes since 1987, after the two men played together in John Lurie's Lounge Lizards. The Passengers' work includes collaborations with Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Little Jimmy Scott. Nathanson's also toured and recorded in a duo with pianist Anthony Coleman, and released Fire at Keaton's Bar and Grill, a concept album about a fire in a fictive nightclub.

Nearness and You, recorded during a June 2015 residency at avant-gardist John Zorn's Lower Manhattan club, The Stone, finds Nathanson performing in duos with various regular collaborators, alternating versions of the Hoagy Carmichael chestut "The Nearness of You" with spontaneous improvisations. Besides Fowlkes and Coleman, Nathanson's duet partners include Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra leader-pianist Arturo O'Farrill, guitarist Marc Ribot, and pianist Myra Melford (whose mentors include Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and Henry Threadgill, and it shows). Trombonist Lucy Hollier, a student of Fowlkes', joins in on her composition "Ludmilla's Lament."

The tracks flow together like a seamless suite, or perhaps more accurately, like an ongoing conversation where different speakers interject at different times. Of the pianists, O'Farrill's the most rhapsodic (particularly on Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino," which makes me want to re-hear her '70s albums like Dinner Music and European Tour 1977), Coleman the most volcanic, Melford the most elegant. Ribot's pointillistic approach to the acoustic instrument on this date reminds me of the time I saw him cover Albert Ayler on solo acoustic. As a saxophonist, Nathanson's capable of lyricism, virtuosity, and rigor. He and Fowlkes complement and mirror each other the way Ornette and Cherry did. The expressive range of his playing on this set makes me want to hear more of his work.


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