By Michael Ullman
Trumpeter Jason Palmer is a master of rhythmic displacement.
Jason Palmer, Fair Weather (Newvelle Records)
Bostonians may recognize Jason Palmer as the pure-toned trumpeter who has for decades been playing at Wally’s, a club that has long been a proving ground for fresh-faced jazz players. He’s the still point in the center of many of the weekly jam sessions in which the changing personnel appears to swirl around him. He’s had a good year. Steeplechase brought out two discs of Palmer’s small group recorded at Wally’s, and next March Palmer’s two-disc set of original compositions, Rhyme and Reason, will be available on GiantSteps Arts. In the meantime, the French company Newvelle has brought out an elegant, beautifully produced LP by Palmer. Available only as a record, Fair Weather features the trumpeter with pianist Leo Genovese, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Kendrick Scott. It will undoubtedly become a collector’s item.
The format matters. While all but one of the numbers on the forthcoming Rhyme and Reason are over 12 minutes long, the nine pieces (six standards and three originals) on Fair Weather are under five minutes each. The album’s sound is almost startling in its immediate presence and warmth. Even better news: the performances are distinctive, the players are both strongly individual and compatible with each other. The standards may be familiar to some aficionados, but they should not be considered clichéd choices. In the 1942 movie Road to Morocco, Bing Crosby crooned (via his pleasantly straightforward style) the ballad “Moonlight Becomes You” to the gorgeous Dorothy Lamour. Frank Sinatra jazzed the tune up a bit in 1965 on Moonlight Sinatra. Trumpeters like “Moonlight Becomes You” — it has been recorded by Bobby Hackett, Chet Baker, and Booker Little. More recently, Paul Motian played it in the second of his On Broadway series with Bill Frisell, who bends the melody seductively.
Palmer makes a new thing out of “Moonlight Becomes You,” allowing the drums to open his striking uptempo version. Others have inevitably milked the Jimmy Van Heusen melody for its romance; Palmer skips through the bridge blithely and, improvising during the second chorus, lowers the volume in order to spit out key notes. This darting, evasive solo ranges about as far as possible from Crosby’s mellifluous fluidity. Palmer is a master of rhythmic displacement. He makes “Easy Living” into an off kilter waltz. On Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti,” the trumpeter plays the hypnotic melody lazily, while Genovese skims over the keyboard behind him. It’s like standing too close to a train as it blasts past. Genovese seems to be in a genial rush; he’s a virtuoso with, I would guess, a sense of humor.
The band plays Willard Robison’s “Old Folks,” a favorite of Charlie Parker’s. The song is about a doddering old man whom everyone will eventually miss. Sarah Vaughan brought out the sweet nostalgia that the composer probably had in mind. On the album Someday My Prince Will Come, Miles Davis takes “Old Folks” at a positively funereal pace, but he somehow makes the slo-mo treatment work. As is typical of him, Palmer changes the rhythm in his lively version, playing in front of a kind of Latin beat in the A sections and in a straight four during the bridge. Pianist Genovese readily picks up on this playfulness, starting his solo with a series of off-beat pokes at the keyboard before falling into a few bars of blues and scalar passages. The Chet Baker version of Palmer’s title tune, “Fair Weather,” was used in the movie Round Midnight. The beauty of Palmer’s tone is notable in this go-round — as is the clarity of the recording, bass and cymbals included: even the tom-toms resonate. It was a pleasure to hear pianist Duke Pearson’s rarely performed ballad “You Know I Care” in the beautifully nuanced performance found here. (Its composer recorded the tune in 1965, a year after Joe Henderson played it on his Inner Urge.) Nor should one ignore the originals, including the enigmatic “Nameless.” Fair Weather will spin on my record player for a while.
Michael Ullman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the U. of Michigan, from which he received a PhD in English. The author or co-author of two books on jazz, he has written on jazz and classical music for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, High Fidelity, Stereophile, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, and other venues. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling, and others have appeared in academic journals. For over 20 years, he has written a bi-monthly jazz column for Fanfare Magazine, for which he also reviews classical music. At Tufts University, he teaches mostly modernist writers in the English Department and jazz and blues history in the Music Department. He plays piano badly.