John McNeil/Bill McHenry – Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

John McNeil is a trumpet player, a veteran of the illustrious Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and has led recording dates since 1978. Bill McHenry is a sax player, has played with Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Henry Grimes and Norah Jones, and has led recording dates since 1998.

A few years ago the two cross-generational players have formed a co-led combo, and this live set from a Manhattan club is their second record together. The quartet is rounded out by Joe Martin on bass and Jochen Ruekert on drums.

Two things I like about this record. One, McNeil and McHenry complement each other well: McNeil with his acidic, economical tone and McHenry with a full-bodied accented tone. Secondly, piano-less horn-led ensembles are a hell of a lot of fun, especially live. The freedom allowed enables the soloists to stretch out and the spaces left by chords not played is like missing puzzle pieces that requires listeners to fill in themselves. This format was pioneered by the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker quartets of the early fifties.

The choice of covers, many of them West Coast jazz mainstays composed around that time, confirms that McNeil and McHenry were seeking to recapture that spirit, and they do just that with total aplomb. Highlights include a reading of “Moonlight In Vermont” with its ominous opening and some beautiful phrasing by both once they get into the melody. “Bea’s Flat” is a great clinic on trading fours by the two leaders. Martin and Rueckert hold things down solidly on the rhythm end.

Chill Morn He Climb Jenny might be a perplexing title for a record, but it’s worth remembering for the great performances contained within.

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