Eric Revis 11:11 – Parallax (CF 266)
The bassist Eric Revis likes to play strong and loud and is willing to cut across lines of style and tradition to satisfy his need. He’s done it in Branford Marsalis’s Quartet, one of this country’s top-billing jazz groups; in Tarbaby, a trio with the pianist Orrin Evans and the drummer Nasheet Waits; and in a trio led by the German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, with which he toured last year. That’s a pretty good range, from some baseline verities of the American jazz tradition to free improvising with art-brut appeal.
For his new album, “Parallax,” he’s found a new forum. Originally, for some 2009 New York club dates, he brought together a quartet with Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Jason Moran on piano, and Mr. Waits on drums.
This is good bridgework, particularly between Mr. Vandermark and Mr. Moran. Their worlds — in Chicago and New York — don’t overlap much. But they’re close enough. Both use compositional structures and organic group interplay and scholarship to experiment with jazz as a history and a process, revisiting old landmarks, shuffling tradition into new shapes. (They’re both MacArthur grant recipients, for those with scorecards.)
The music, rough and baleful, seems to have pretty old time-stamps on it, though. Much of “Parallax” sounds to me like the ’80s or early ’90s, reminiscent in passing of music by John Carter, Tim Berne, David S. Ware and many blended-together nights at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street. It can sound like research into a variety of strategies: marches, groove, free rhythm; solo-bass features, sometimes double-tracked; blues language and collective improvisation; a Bob Kaufman poem interpreted variously in music by the band members; originals with small or jagged melodies and reworked old songs. (There are two pieces of old-time repertory: an emphatic, stomping version of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” and a more indirect and wild paraphrasing of Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”)
The record is searching for a partnership of sound, and so the action pulls toward Mr. Moran and Mr. Waits, who have one: they’ve played together for more than a decade and instinctively lock together through feel and dynamics. Some of the album’s thrills, like the tossing, tumbling passages in the middle of “Hyperthral,” “Split” and “IV,” are essentially theirs. Mr. Revis follows his own internal mandate to be stormy or forthright in his improvising, and so does Mr. Vandermark, but they can seem isolated within the project. The record’s a good idea, and a good start; the band needs more time to gestate.