Eric Revis 11:11, Parallax (CF 266)
It’s almost a shame Eric Revis is still best known as the longstanding bassist for the Branford Marsalis Quartet, because his own projects have been consistently meaty, masterful and stylistically multi-faceted. Parallax — his third disc as a leader, not counting the trio Tarbaby — is a bold, star-infused quartet date that deserves to be heard above all the year-end list-making hoopla surrounding its release. Revis emerges as the guiding force among such dominant sidemen as pianist Jason Moran, Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, and Nasheet Waits in the drummer’s chair. He stakes out the terrain with showcases that include a modulated blizzard of notes from his bow on the 80-second solo opener, “Prelusion”; agile plucking on the 102-second mid-disc solo, “Percival”; and the closing title track, an ominous and deliberate texture-contrast duet with Vandermark.
Revis challenges his supergroup in unique fashion by structuring “Celestial Hobo” around the individual musical reaction of each band member to a poem by Bob Kaufman. He and Waits build funhouse mirrors out of crazy-glue in their intrepid intros to two standards, raking and scratching for beats on Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” and lurching about like mimes pretending inebriation on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues.” And among Revis’s group compositions, “Edgar,” sports a marvelous stalk-swing groove that is by turns spooky and whimsical.
The sidemen deploy their enormous talents with bristling elegance, mixing brutish abandon with expertly honed restraint, so that the customary patterns of ensemble interplay are elevated and/or altered by extraordinary innovation. You hear it in the way Vandermark refuses to climax the tension of his high-wire clarinet solo on “MXR,” the way Waits swings the centrifugal force out to the periphery on the Waller tune, the two-handed gusto that Moran uses to both goad and waylay the groove on “IV,” and the distinct unison harmonies Moran and Vandermark wring out of their front-line tandem on many of the tracks. The two group improvisations are among the best of their kind that I’ve heard in recent years. “IV” is hard-bop rampaging through thorny rose bushes. “Hyperthral” lives up to its title, gradually escalating into shred-fest while Revis’s bass holds the ground with the ever-presence of an afternoon shadow. A “parallax” describes the displacement of an object viewed along two different lines of sight — an apt title for music with this many angles and ideas.