David Ake. Bridges.
Posi-Tone, 2013. David Ake: http://www.davidakemusic.com/live/
There’s a new jazz guy in town. He’s not really new, but he’s got a job here now, so that makes him ours (“gooble gobble, one of us”), whether he wants to be considered a Northeast Ohio artist or not. David Ake is the relatively new Chair of the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University, having relocated from the University of Nevada, and before that, California. He’s put out a half-dozen jazz albums, has authored or edited three books on the subject, and is trained as a musicologist. I didn’t really notice that I had heard his work before looking him up, but he did an album with the trio EEA back in 2010 that I picked up somewhere, and liked a lot. I thought I’d give this new one a try.
Here, the pianist has put together a stellar sextet. It’s sort of odd that he is one of the less well-known member of the group. These guys are all major players, and many have worked together on other projects (Alessi and Coltrane, Colley and Epstein), so it seems Ake is well-respected outside of academic circles. If I had to characterize the music, I don’t think I would. There’s too much variation--some postbop, some minimalism, some avant-garde, and even a touch of New Orleans now and then. This makes it hard to pigeonhole, which is probably the point.
The title tracks starts off as a minimalist mixing up of instruments on a simple theme that reminds me of a traffic jam, with its insistent horn repetition; deceptively simple. Ralph Alessi takes off on “Sonomads,” a lovely, balanced composition that, while still exhibiting some of the minimalist approach of the first track, takes off in a different direction, with the Ake and the rhythm section taking much of the foreground, and the entire group sounding like a big band at the end. Epstein comes out front for “Story Table,” with some fiery sax work in a post-bop mode. The interplay among the two saxophonists and Alessi is really grand throughout. “We Do?” gets weird, moving from a bop beginning, picking up some Ornette Coleman-like stuff along the way, then moving back to bop for the finale. Colley’s bass solo is sweet. Ake’s melodic piano is out front for “Boats (exit),” with the horns sounding like a flock of Canada geese in the background, getting closer. The nearly nine minute workout of “Year in Review” displays the talents of everyone, but I was especially taken by Alessi’s playing here, as well as Ake’s elaborate piano. The other long piece is “Dodge,” which makes the sextet sound like a tight big band again, with excellent work by Coltrane. It gets a bit far out in the middle, but comes back home, seemingly an exercise in order and chaos. The more relaxed “Grand Colonial” precedes the closer, “Light Bright,” which acts as a bookend to the opener, seemingly simple, but maybe not so much as one delves in.
I hear a theme to the album, one that explores the relationships between structure and anti-structure, with some compositions in one camp, and some veering wildly between the two. Ake’s piano and the rhythm section hold it all together. This makes for considerable eclecticism, but the fine musicians Ake is working with are up to the task, and the result is a worthwhile album.
Personnel: David Ake (piano, composer), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Epstein (alto sax), Mark Ferber (drums).
Tracks: Bridges, Sonomads, Waterfront, Story Table, We Do?, Boats (exit), Year in Review, Open/Balance, Dodge, Grand Colonial, Light Bright.