In Memory of Things Yet Seen
Eric Revis Quartet
Bill McHenry (ts), Branford Marsalis (ts), Chad Taylor (d), Darius Jones (as), Eric Revis (b),
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For bassist Eric Revis, differentiations between what is considered “mainstream” and “avant-garde” in jazz means next to nothing. With his new astonishing CD, In Memory of Things Yet Seen, Revis puts his own wider vision of jazz into practice. The title suggests from the start that the tradition and the inventions of the future aren’t mutually exclusive.
Joining Revis on his third release on Clean Feed Records, are like-minded musicians who continually looking back to see more clearly what is in front of them. Namely Darius Jones, an altoist who understoods that hip-hop, funk, soul and rock are all branches of the same tree from which jazz blossoms. Bill McHenry, a saxophonist known for a role in many of Paul Motian’s projects who has played extensively with Revis in his own quartet with pianist Orrin Evans and the legendary Andrew Cyrille. And of course Chad Taylor, a fundamental part of the Chicago Underground ensembles, always trying to establish new vocabularies in the context of already established ones.
“The way the band is shaping up, there’s much reverence for tradition and the tradition of taking things forward,” Revis says. “I really like the fact that they are all such well-rounded players. Right now, there are very few bands that are really doing the ‘back to the future’ thing.”
Revis, who now makes his home in Los Angeles (following 14 eventful years in New York City and a brief sojourn near San Antonio, TX), has the credentials to talk tradition. He came up with the Betty Carter Quartet in the 1990s and has been Branford Marsalis’s man on bass since 1997. More recently he’s been heard alongside heavy-hitting horn players like Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark. The two saxophonists Revis brought in for his new quartet, Jones and McHenry, follow in that full-throttle tradition. And adding to the sax complement, Marsalis himself shows up on two tracks.
“Branford was like, ‘Man, I’m coming into town, am I playing on your record?” Revis recalled with a laugh. “He was coming back from Japan and he stayed over a couple days and we just did it.”
Having Marsalis on board only added to the sound which Revis was looking for. Propelled by Chad Taylor’s vibes and drums, the group has a voice reminiscent of Coleman’s pianoless quartets (especially the Dewey Redman / Jimmy Garrison / Elvin Jones band of the late ’60s) and bassist Dave Holland’s early ’70s Conference of the Birds band, with Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers and Barry Altschul, a band which also forsook a pianist.
“All of my projects have featured piano,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do something with an amalgam of four voices. And a lot of it is composed. There’s just two pieces, “Hits” and “FreeB” that are improv.”
The album includes a nod to a past master of futurism with a spirited take on Sun Ra’s “Shadow World.” But it’s Revis’s compositions that sell the band. His “The Tulpa Chronicles” – spread across the album in three parts – is a beautifully metered suite for each of the instrumental voices. “Somethin’s Cookin” could be seen as a love letter to Coleman’s New York is Now. The intriguingly titled “Unknown” opens as an upbeat hard bop and progresses by pushing at its own edges. “3 Voices” is a ballad wonderfully crafted out of unison and sparsity. And whatever image the title “Hold My Snowcone” conjures, it probably wouldn’t match the slow burn of the track.
The group will be touring France, Spain, Austria and Belgium in March, and Revis is looking forward to continuing on with the lineup long after that.
“We’ve all played together in different contexts,” Revis says. “I have full intentions of going back and forth between this and my trio with Kris Davis and Andrew Cyrille.” In Memory of Things Yet Seen is, he promises, “an initial foray into what will be a unique band sound.