Review

MARQUIS HILL Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, Joachim Floren, Denis Fournier : Escape Lane

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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4.5/5 ·
js
There was a time when the idea of a relaxed or even ‘mellow’ approach to free jazz improvisation would have been quite the oxymoron in a genre usually given to intense emotional outbursts, but those days have long passed. It was the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other AACM artists who introduced the idea of free improv as a collection of minute events that could easily move from quiet to very intense, depending on the intent of the performer. Since then, the innovations of this Chicago Ensemble have taken root and today’s free jazz improviser is freer than ever, and welcome to explore his craft in any mood desired, including this mostly very mellow set by the new ensemble, Escape Lane, on their equally new release of the same name. This may be somewhat relaxed sounding music, but the concentration of these performers, and their imaginative approach to their instruments is just as intense as a room full of screaming tenor saxophonists of times past, or present.

There is an interesting mix of approaches here amongst the four musicians involved. Trumpeter Marquis Hill remains mostly melodic throughout, recalling similar approaches by fellow trumpeters such as Booker Little and Don Cherry, who also kept a melodic approach while often being surrounded by a maelstrom of activity. Drummer Dennis Fournier often recalls Paul Motian’s ability to sound vaguely busy, yet relaxed, while on cuts like “Lever de Soliel…” he introduces a Billy Higgins style African influenced groove, only to let it go halfway through the proceedings. Guitarist Jeff Parker can recall Jim Hall, but also is the one most apt to go for pure sounds and noises, which he finds without any effects or devices by using the physical quality of his strings and the volume knobs on his guitar. Bassist Joachim Florent, like many a jazz bassist, is a bit in the background and could have used a little more boost in the mix, but he still gets a few moments to step forward.

Most of the music played on here is truly ‘free’ in that the band rarely gets on a shared groove except for the aforementioned opening to “Lever de Soliel …”, as well as the closing of that same lengthy (20 minutes plus) track when Fournier goes into a bit of a post bop ride. “Rough Grooved Surface” is a break from their usual relaxed approach as the band builds to a climax driven by Fournier’s free bop drive and capped by Jeff Parker’s frantic guitar solo that recalls AACM’s Michael Gregory Jackson. After this, the album closes with “Une Petit”, which ends things with Hill soloing melodically over Parker’s sparse string noises.

“Escape Lane” is a highly creative and focused album and one of the best jazz albums of 2017, avant-garde or otherwise. Its also one of the better free jazz records in the entire 55 plus years of the genre. Listening to the unobtrusive approach of these musicians might have you wondering, is this the sound of lounge music in the new century, now that would be something.
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