By Troy Collins
Bassist Chris Lightcap has been a well-established presence in the Downtown New York jazz scene since the early ‘90s. In addition to regularly working as a sideman for such luminaries as Regina Carter, Joe Morris and Matt Wilson, Lightcap leads his own ensemble, Bigmouth, featuring tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Bigmouth evolved from a piano-less quartet with Cleaver, Malaby and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, which was the line-up for Lay-Up (2000) and Bigmouth (2003) – Lightcap’s first efforts as a bandleader for Fresh Sound New Talent. In 2005 Lightcap invited Taborn to join the four-piece, renaming the augmented configuration Bigmouth. Epicenter is the group’s sophomore effort for Clean Feed Records, following Deluxe, its sterling 2010 debut.
Lightcap’s enduring interest in popular music imbues his writing with an accessibility similar to that of Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis, Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas and Chris Speed’s Yeah NO, where conventional song structures hold precedence over freewheeling improvisations – relying on catchy melodies, tight harmonies and steady rhythms to provide a solid foundation for soloists’ thematic interpolations.
Taborn’s overdriven electric piano dominates the rousing opener, “Nine South,” (the first part of a suite commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program) providing a thrilling introduction to the set, although Taborn actually plays more acoustic piano on this session than Wurlitzer, which he used exclusively on Deluxe. Unplugged, he adroitly expands upon the leader’s pliant bass ruminations at the outset of the Ornettish title track, providing spare harmonies for the tenors’ elliptical variations.
Longer pieces like “Arthur Avenue” and “Stone By Stone” allow each band member ample time to wax lyrical on euphonious motifs, while the atmospheric “White Horse” and the anthemic “Down East” eschew lengthy extrapolations in favor of dramatically concise exercises in mood and tension. In each case Lightcap’s charts are strictly followed, instilling a sense of stylistic unity.
Providing additional consistency, the album’s first seven cuts are all culled from the aforementioned suite, “Lost and Found: New York,” an extended work based on famous city landmarks. The eighth and final number is a rapturous cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” – a surprisingly apt closer that fits seamlessly into the record’s thematic celebration of the Big Apple. Ultimately, it’s this sort of focused approach towards the collective realization of a centralized idea that makes Epicenter so appealing.