Friday, September 07, 2012

Arthur Kell Quartet Inspired By Jesters

Bassist-composer Arthur Kell has a new recording by his Quartet on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, Jester. Kell has performed with a variety of contemporary jazz artists including Thomas Chapin, Bobbie Previte, Marc Ribot, Billy Bang, Bill McHenry, Guillermo Klein, Christian Howes, Art Baron, and Bruce Barth and since 1997 has led his own groups. Jester was recorded with his working group of Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Brad Shepik (guitar) and Mark Ferber (drums) and is a follow-up to his prior BJU Records release Victoria - Live In Germany. Kell notes that most of the touring with his group has been in Europe, and he is pleased to have another recording “that captures the amazing spirit of all those tours.”

The album’s theme (evident from its title) explores jesters and their link to modern day artists and activists. Kell explains that "the jesters became essential in society because they used any skill they had - physical, verbal, musical and political - to educate and illuminate. … The jester as a silly man wearing bells is just a stereotype, a caricature that isn't even representative of most European jesters, much less of those in other cultures. Jesters came in all shapes and sizes and characters. Foolishness could be just the vehicle a jester used to convey an important message to a ruler. … They were the wild card which kept a leader thinking clearly, often wielding vast influence. But more broadly, they were a trickster, that vital character at the heart and dawn of human society that crossed boundaries to open the imagination.” And the centrality of the theme is not simply reflected by the title but also the cover which is “one of a series of jester finials on an iron fence around a bank in Bucharest.”

The seven performances here are wonderfully recorded (well worth listening to on headphones) and Kell’s compositions sound fresh and the band plays wonderfully together. The leader sets the tone on the opening Quarter Sawn with a playful bass figure that Ferber’s adds a parade-like groove before Stillman and Shepik enter to state the theme with Kell. Shepik takes an propulsive solo with his solo punctuated by some prickly single note runs followed by Stillman’s alto whose deliberate playing and solo works off Kell’s playful bass riff. The intro to Ijinna has a bit more subdued feel, with Stillman’s sax and Shepik’s guitar lending atmosphere. Ferber, in turn makes judicious use of his cymbals before Stillman and Shepik deliver the theme (with a mid-Eastern tinge). Ferber’s is marvelous in his adding his rhythmic accents in addition to the coloring provided by his cymbals under some marvelous alto saxophone, followed by Shepik’s crisp and inventive guitar. 

The title track has more of a playful feel with Stillman’s displaying considerable imagination in constructing his solo backed by a lively rhythm. The leader solos here and Shepik judiciously employs chords in his backing of both sax and bass. Song For the Journey opens with Kell providing a bass riff, as Stillman states the theme and Shepik adds chords while Ferber’s cymbal work establishes the song’s languorous mood. Stillman and Shepik’s solos and the group interplay on the to establish Anima Negra, as well as on the amusingly titled Tiki Time Bomb, is favorably compared to similar groups including the celebrated New Orleans band, Astral Project. 

Listening to Jester, one appreciates the enthusiasm the performances received at the time they were recorded in concert. This is an excellent group that displays humor, imagination, and passion in the varied, intriguing compositions performed here. It will appeal to a diverse group of jazz lovers.

I received my review copy from a publicist for this release. Here is a clip of the Arthur Kell Quartet with Loren Stillman and Brad Shepik, but a different drummer.

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