Jazz CD Review: Jason Palmer’s “Rhyme and Reason” — Intricate Artistry

By Michael Ullman

Trumpeter Jason Palmer’s mastery is of the unimposing kind, which this piano-less quartet seamlessly reflects.

Jason Palmer: Rhyme and Reason (2 CDs: Giant Step Arts)

The quartet on “Rhyme and Reason”: Kendrick Scott, Jason Palmer, Mark Turner, and Matt Brewer. Photo: Jimmy Katz.

Giant Step Arts is the recent creation of recording engineer (and photographer) Jimmy Katz and his wife Dena. It’s a nonprofit whose goal is to present and record live concerts of original material by “the music’s most innovative players.” Those players retain ownership of the masters and “have total control of their artistic projects.” They are even given 800 copies of their work to peddle themselves.

Admirable though this project is, it wouldn’t mean much if the music weren’t good. In the case of trumpeter Jason Palmer and his new two disc set Rhyme and Reason, the music is more than good. One notices immediately not merely the deft playing of his band, saxophonist (and longtime collaborator) Mark Turner, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Kendrick Scott, but the extraordinary clarity and realistic sound stage of the recording. The band is presented compactly, the rhythm section neither exaggerated nor hidden. That approach allows the listener to hear the extraordinary interactions of all four players, as in the whimsical opening piece, “Herbs in a Glass,” whose complicated melody remains playful rather than intimidating.

Palmer kicks off “Rhyme and Reason,” the title cut, with an unaccompanied solo. Here, as elsewhere, he plays with a beautifully pure open sound: on the “Rhyme and Reason” cut he adds some unexpected squeaks, and a hint of a growl low in his range before the band enters gently. Palmer and Turner play in tandem a rendition of the slowly evolving melody. When we least expect it, the tempo picks up and the two horns play Palmer’s intricate lines in unison. Then Turner takes over with relaxed phrases. It all sounds spacious; yet it is rhythmically alive. It’s the gentlest avant-garde music, gorgeous in tone, restrained, melodic, and consistently appealing in an intelligent way.

There is no overblowing on these discs, no harsh corners. “Blue Grotto,” for instance, opens with a sweetly moving bass line tinted by mere hints of percussion. The melody is subsequently performed carefully — and quietly — by the leader. “Blue Grotto” is one of a series of geographical titles ,including “The Hampton Inn,” “Mark’s Place,” and the closing number, “Kalispel Bay,” named after a lake in Idaho. On “Kalispel Bay,” Turner begins to play some swirling lines and the rhythm section picks up the intensity in a manner that sounds spontaneous as well as effortless.

Long a fixture in the Boston jazz scene, Palmer has clearly traveled. His is an unimposing kind of mastery, which this piano-less quartet seamlessly reflects.

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.

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