Steve Fishwick/Alex Garnett Quartet – Marshian Time Slip
(Hard Bop Records HBR33011. LP review by Peter Jones)
Serendipity plays a major part in jazz, because improvisation is needed in all kinds of situations – not all of them musical. Truly creative musicians welcome life’s curve-balls: they provide more opportunities for trying things a different way, and maybe discovering something new as a result.
If that all sounds a bit abstract, take as an example this knowingly retro new release from trumpeter Steve Fishwick and alto saxophonist Alex Garnett, for which each has written four tunes. The music originates from a project undertaken fifteen years ago when the Fishwick brothers, Steve and drummer Matt, were living in a flat close to Garnett’s place. There was no piano in the rehearsal room, so they found themselves inadvertently following the ‘chordless’ path blazed by the likes of the Kenny Dorham/Ernie Henry Quartet on their 1957 album 2 Horns/2 Rhythm, with Eddie Mathias on bass and G.T. Hogan on drums. And of course Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker had been that way before.
Without a chord instrument you get all kinds of musical tension: the context is less certain, and a lot of responsibility devolves upon the bass-player. In this case, the job is solidly and imaginatively performed by New York-based Mike Karn, who switched to bass in mid-career after years of high-profile success on the tenor saxophone. You can hear his contribution particularly well in Garnett’s slowish swing tune Kaftan: during the opening statement, with trumpet and alto playing mostly in unison, Karn and Fishwick M provide both the counterpoint and the ballast, the bass hits going exactly where a pianist would play them; after both horns have soloed, it’s Karn’s turn, but rather than go off on a skittering display of technique, he carries on playing four to the bar, with just a few sketched-in variations. A little unexpected, and it sounds great.
Primitis is named for Fishwick S’s son’s teddy bear. It’s a slow waltz that sounds like something from Miles’s ESP album. Again you can hear the pivotal role of Karn, who starts things off with some lovely glissando and pinging harmonic effects, before settling into the main theme.
Rio de Ron (‘Rum River’), which opens side two, is an appropriately latin-tinged number in which the rhythm section again blends beautifully. The melody hints at Duke Jordan’s Jeannine, the horns both hitting their stride in the solos – fast and inventive, but most of all melodic.
For those who are interested in this sort of thing, the final track Lickeroo is a contrafact on Cherokee, featuring metrically compressed chord changes, reducing Cherokee’s 64 bars at 340bpm to a 32-bar medium swing 120bpm. Clever.
Marshian Time Slip (the title a triple pun involving Philip K. Dick, Warne Marsh and the history of this project as a whole) is gorgeously written and actually sounds very ‘now’, despite its backward-glancing influences., and it’s less brutal than what’s normally considered as hard bop. So if, like me, you tend to shy away from anything that lacks instruments that you would normally consider to be essential, do yourself a favour and listen to this.