Wednesday, May 13, 2009



By Nick Mondello

PERSONNEL: Mark Saltman, double bass/composer; William Knowles, piano/composer; Lori Williams- Chisholm, vocals; Jimmy “Junebug” Jackson, drums; Alvin Trask, trumpet; Robert Landham, saxes

Pacific Coast Jazz Label

What is it about bass player-composers? While predominantly dwelling in the harmonic-rhythmic foundation of the jazz composition, bassists such as Charlie Haden, and of course, the Dali Lama of bassist composers, Charles Mingus, have given the jazz world some of its most intriguing, memorable compositions. In this highly engaging CD, Return of the Composer, Mark Saltman continues and lives up to that basso profundo compositional tradition – but he’s not alone.

Saltman’s compositional colleague on this date, pianist William Knowles, also steps up to the plate here with a fine foursome of neat originals seemingly steeped in the best Horace Silver tradition. The result of this compositional collaboration, combined with the talents of the rest of this ensemble, is a terrific array of intelligent, involving music. With ten original selections, each with a driving, catchy rhythmic undercurrent, Saltman, Knowles and cohorts make the most of the composed platform they are provided.

Not surprisingly, the rhythmic ribbons on many of the selections are engaging from the bottom up, but, are never clichéd. Bassist Saltman, the savvy composer that he is, knows what will drive and what might turn rhythmically stale and melodically non-supportive. Knowles knows this all too well, too. Pianist William Knowles‘s playing is outstanding, never stepping on either vocal or ensemble toes. Vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm has a beautiful, soprano voice that is pitch-pure. Since all the selections here with the exception of the closer “Pain Management”, have no verbal lyrics, Williams-Chisholm’s intonation, sense of swing and ensemble “playing” need to be perfect – and they are. Horn input from the exciting Robert Landham on saxes and the very talented Alvin Trask on trumpet are noteworthy. Both solo con brio y alma throughout. Drummer Jimmy “Junebug” Jackson pushes and prods nicely throughout the session.

The rhythmic mix here is extremely good. There is a high degree of esprit evident. Although each selection is highly listenable and involving, of particular interest are the hustling “Bellport,” the triple-metered “It’s Been a Mad Spring,” and the stealthy “Creepin’ Up”. The production and recording values are excellent. With such expertise in their respective comp skills, I wondered as to why there is not a ballad selection included. With what Saltman and Knowles have in their compositional knapsack and with the wonderful vocal talent displayed by Williams-Chisholm and ensemble excellence displayed, I’d wager it would be another stellar performance, as is this effort.

I hope the composers’ return again – very soon.

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