This album lends a fresh spin on J.S. Bach’s solo violin music. The Hilliard Ensemble backsviolinist Christoph Poppen by fashioning vocal chorales out of the solo lines. The production is exquisite (as to be expected from ECM) but it is Poppen’s interpretation that makes the record. My teacher and colleague, trombonist Alan Ferber, once told me that “the best classical music sounds improvised” and cited this album. Poppen performs each piece with clear intent but also spontaneity, as if he conjured it out of thin air. He plays entirely in the moment, something I think musicians should strive for whether improvising or not.
I find Sonny Rollins’ live performances to be more inspired and uninhibited than in the studio. This lesser-known album is no exception. The first thing that strikes me is the sound quality. Henry Grimes’ bass and Sonny’s tenor have well-defined, full-bodied tones throughout. Sonny’s transitions between melody and solo are stunning. On “How High the Moon” he plays around with the head for several choruses while gradually inserting more of his own ideas. This approach sounds fresh even today amidst the clichés associated with standards.
Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone
Henry Grimes – bass
Pete La Roca – drums
This recent offering from Peter Epstein exemplifies how a cohesive band should sound. Some modern jazz groups give the impression of individual players being glued to their parts. This album is a breath of fresh air. The musicians are attuned to each other and let moments happen at their own pace. Part of this is a testament to Epstein’s open-ended compositions. Oftentimes, I couldn’t distinguish between written and improvised sections as in “Old Yarn.” The frontline duo of Epstein and Ralph Alessi really captures the spirit of Ornette Coleman’s early bands.
Ralph Alessi – trumpet
Peter Epstein – alto saxophone
Sam Minaie – bass
Mark Ferber – drums