Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Deluxe (CF174)
Chris Lightcap, one of the more enterprising Downtown bassists to emerge in the past decade, has built an impressive discography as a sideman, accompanying such luminaries as Rob Brown, Joe Morris and Craig Taborn, among many others. Deluxe is the Clean Feed debut of his Bigmouth ensemble, an augmented variation of his quartet, whose previous two albums, Lay-Up and Bigmouth, were both released on the Fresh Sound label.
An instrumentalist with a robust tone and flawless timing, Lightcap’s melodious writing is his true talent, much like fellow bassist/composer Ben Allison, whose work Lightcap’s slightly resembles. Many jazz composers draw from the pop music of their youth for inspiration, but Lightcap integrates rock-oriented tonalities and conventional harmonic progressions into a compositionally advanced jazz context more successfully than most.
Though fairly straightforward, this harmonious and often cathartic approach is met head on by the dual tenor front-line of Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby, whose lush horn voicings soar over the shimmering Wurlitzer chords of Craig Taborn, as Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver drive infectious themes home with élan. Special guest alto saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo makes a strong appearance as well – his biting tone and quicksilver cadences elevating the three cuts on which he plays.
Placing an emphasis on melody first and foremost, the opener, “Platform,” is an exemplary demonstration of the band’s interpretive prowess. Taborn’s probing variations on the tune’s supple theme are embellished by Cheek’s plangent tenor, who passes the baton to Malaby for a rousing finish; if Taborn’s warm Wurlitzer tone is the heart of Bigmouth’s sound, then Cheek and Malaby’s breathy unison tenors are its soul. Selflessly elevating the front-line’s buoyant lyricism, Cleaver’s workman-like downbeats and subtle percussive asides conspire with the leader’s stalwart contributions, providing the quintet with a steadfast rhythmic foundation.
The epic Americana of “Silvertone” and the lilting waltz-time “Ting” feature D’Angelo’s terse alto, which waxes lyrical through the first half of “Silvertone,” then re-appears at the coda, joined by Cheek and Malaby. Building in intensity at the finale, the three saxophonists peal off epic sheets of sound that transcend the tune’s modest beginnings.
The remaining tracks also plumb euphonious melodies, rich harmonies and carefree rhythms, with Lightcap revealing a fondness for subtle Afro-Latin accents and subdivisions of three-quarter time, featuring both on the jubilant “Deluxe Version.” The band’s mellifluous tendencies come to the fore on the wistful ballad “Year of the Rooster,” with “The Clutch” spotlighting dulcet interplay between Cheek and Malaby over a brisk syncopated rhythm. Malaby and Taborn reveal their more extreme inclinations on the pensive “Two-Face,” taking the tune out with a rancorous burnout that raises the bandstand. Only the appropriately titled “Fuzz” acquiesces to conventional rock music clichés, with Lightcap’s distorted bass and Cleaver’s thunderous trap set palpitations invoking populist strains.
A stellar example of accessible, forward-thinking new jazz, Deluxe pulls at the heartstrings and moves the body, without forgetting to exercise the mind.