Friday, April 17, 2009

John Esposito - A Book of Five Rings (Sunjump, 2008)

I saw pianist and composer John Esposito play a couple of times live with saxophonist Eric Person and was impressed with his strong and percussive style, which I found to be reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. So when this large group jam session popped up on eMusic, I wanted to check it out. According to Esposito's notes, this was originally supposed to be released on the revived ESP label, and it certainly has a free-ish vibe like the old ESP discs. Along with the leader and Person are Janya Nelson on flute, Matt Schulman on trumpet, James Finn on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Tony Underwood on tuba, Hilliard Greene on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums. Recorded live at the Knitting Factory back in 1997, it's a hot concert, a jam, but one that never gets out of control regardless of the energy, which is a complement to both Esposito and the other members of the group. "Bwarat" opens with some sweet and breathy flute from Nelson and a strong exotic sounding soprano saxophone solo giving way to tart trumpet over percussively comped piano. "Smitty" was the highpoint of the album for me, featuring strong and rapid piano, a trumpet solo that digs deep and then climaxes with an explosive tenor saxophone solo that is simply extraordinary in its flame throwing energy. "Two Worlds" is a lengthy suite-like performance that alternates accordingly between sections of delicate interplay and cacophonous improvisation. The finale, another suite, "...and His Spirit Ascended/Trane's Church" builds slowly from a flute led meditation to a full out late period Coltrane ecstatic blowout. It's quite impressive and the musicians never lose focus during the near half our long dramatic improvisation. It unfolds like a ceremony and as such is quite an accomplishment. I enjoyed this album quite a bit, at times it reminded me of some of the big band projects of Sam Rivers or the gospel tinged intensity of some Charles Mingus recordings. Certainly worthwhile for fans of modal to free jazz.
A Book of Five Rings -

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