Zenith, Marc Copland (innerVoice Jazz)
Marc Copland knocked me out when he appeared at the Outpost last year in John Abercrombie’s quartet. He was so keyed into what the moment needed from him, and he delivered it with passion, humor, touch, and a killer rhythmic instinct. So I jumped on the opportunity to review his new release, Zenith (on his new label, innerVoice Jazz) when it
appeared in the mailbox. Featuring Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Drew Gress (bass), and Joey Baron (drums), Zenith finds Copland at the—wait for it—summit of his abilities.
Both Copland and Alessi, colorists at heart, excel at painting abstract sonic atmospheres, and Copland’s broad harmonic palette gives them plenty of room to stretch out. Copland takes the writing credit for four of the six tracks, with the three-part “Air We’ve Never Breathed,” ascribed to the entire quartet, and Duke Ellington’s “Mystery Song” rounding out the selections. Copland explores and exploits harmonies that, however unexpected, hit just the right notes. If harmony had a pocket, he’d be deep in it. As it is, he is deep in the rhythmic pocket when comping under Alessi’s solos, finding the right accents harmonically and otherwise.
Alessi never wastes a note. His spare, lyrical stylings are freighted with emotion. Just check out the heartbreaking line in his solo in the final part of “Air We’ve Never Breathed.” On that same track, Baron takes a hold-your-breath solo on the cymbals alone. “Timbre timbre timbre”—the musical equivalent of “Location location location”—might be the axiom for these four guys.
Gress and Baron are beautifully matched, finding just the right measure of swing and funk that a tune demands—from the
easygoing swing on “Sun at Zenith” to the edgy, exhilarating boil of “Waterfalls” to the high simmer under “Mystery Song.” Check out the opening on this track, where Gress and Baron set up contrasting rhythmic
figures that seem mismatched at first but slowly and magically lock together in a deeply swinging groove.
Beautifully recorded, mixed, and mastered by Katsuhiko Naito, Zenith offers up a
quartet that seems to beat with one heart and is well acquainted with the thrilling sensation of weightlessness.