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By Josef Woodard
The new album from tenor sax master Mark Turner is something of a sequel to and an expansion upon last year’s bold ECM release, Return From the Stars, from which much of the new album’s material is drawn. Turner’s simple yet loaded album title, Live at the Village Vanguard, bristles with a sense of well-earned historical alliances — to the primal importance of live jazz documentation (surprisingly, this is Turner’s first live project) and the temple-like aura of NYC’s Vanguard.
The chemistry within Turner’s quartet, the intrigue and integrity of the compositions and the spirit of moving forward while tapping traditional roots serve to create a double album of great beauty and challenge. New concepts, shifting approaches to two-horn writing and sometimes chamber-esque schemes lend freshness to Turner’s take on the “chordless” ensemble model. He’s joined by kindred spirits: expressively potent trumpeter Jason Palmer, and the empathetic and flexible rhythm section of bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jonathan Pinson.
Interactions aside, one of the album’s deepest pleasures is hearing Turner stretch out in solo mode, on introductions to “Brother Sister” and to the languid, 18-minute requiem-like “Wasteland.” Turner has a way of asserting his unique, and oft-imitated, saxophonic voice with uncommon clarity and assurance, as if adventurism flows with natural ease. He’s in no rush to impress, and thus impresses mightily.
Turner’s compositional/arrangement concepts enrich the opening “Return From the Stars,” “Bridgetown” and “Nigeria 2,” while leaning in the direction of a 12/8 soul-gospel vibe on “Lincoln Heights.” The new tune “1946” loosely behaves like a medium swing excursion, with Turner-esque twists, and he makes sly gestures toward the established jazz canon with “It’s Not Alright With Me” (an answer to Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me”). To close, he leans back on the ancestral influence of Lennie Tristano and especially Tristano’s protégé, Warne Marsh, on “Lennie’s Groove,” with its angular, linear motifs and harmonic innovation.
Consider this profoundly good news from the annals of live Vanguard recordings: Turner has turned in one of the most satisfying jazz albums of the year.