Ian Tordella – Tragic Comedy (2012)

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Photos courtesy of AllAboutJazz.com

I might have stated this a time or two before on this space, but the future of jazz as a living, breathing, expanding music form is in the hands of the twenty and thirtysomethings who grew up on Bjork, Radiohead and Oasis, but went to some of the country’s finest music programs and conservatories to soak in Armstrong, Parker, Monk, Miles, Coltrane and Rollins. They are the ones who can reach out to younger audiences by making a link between the indie rock of their generation with the classic jazz of its forbears. One of those guys who is making jazz sound youthful again is a saxophonist by the name of Ian Tordella — who’s worked in the past with Jason Robinson.

Raised near D.C., and schooled at the University of North Texas, this San Diego-area resident is set to release his second album Tragic Comedy.

The key ingredient in Tordella creating this meshing of the jazz past with the jazz future is a two-guitar lineup. We’ve seen this attempted a few times before, most notably by Ornette Coleman and Paul Motian, both of whom, incidentally, have been frequently lauded for pushing forward the boundaries of jazz. Tordella’s strategy using two guitarists is, more than anything else, giving them a free hand to deploy effects, play loud if they want to and make dirty noises. Jeff Miles and Joey Carano (a former sideman with Karl Denson) handle those duties.

On the other hand, Danny Weller mans an acoustic bass, setting up a division of styles that Tordella is able to successfully juxtapose. Part of that is due to Tordella’s playing style, which incorporates George Coleman’s soulful mannerisms with Wayne Shorter’s economy. This thoughtful, uncluttered manner fits easily into the indie aesthetic. The drummer Richard Sellers aligns himself on one side of the other depending on the song and what is called for. Songs like “Tragic Comedy” the song (stream below), is where Tordella, Weller and Sellers suggest modern jazz, but Miles and Carano don’t necessarily play in the jazz tradition. Trading off solos, the two pull in both forms to produce feathery lines that recall early Pat Metheny. “Spring Again” shifts even more away from mainstream jazz, especially the rhythm section picks up in the middle of the song to establish a firm rock groove. Several other tracks follow this formula of some musicians playing in one genre and other musicians playing in another, yet somehow it all comes together all right.

The success in synthesizing the two seemingly incompatible genres is also helped along by Tordella’s understanding and admiration of acts like Stereolab and Squarepusher, even selecting the album’s only two covers from Stereolab’s catalog and using these bands as the model for providing ideas for the texture, if not the presentation of these songs. The first of these, “Puncture in the Radax Permutation,” (Youtube below) represents the furthest the record ventures into rock territory, as one guitar grinds with a fuzz-infused plod and the other one freelances and cross over into noise guitar. The second part of the song is a sped up, funkier version of the first, following through on the foreboding promise of that long intro. And just like that, the music pivots on the next song to the pure modern jazz of “While We’re Young,” with a strong melody that’s a fine example of the style. “Catharsis” is another unexpected turn, an acoustic guitar turn by Carano that adds just a touch of folk. Miles plays the lone guitar on “Expectations” freely moving from rhythm, to unison with Tordella, to sole lead, easily adjusting his mode of expression within the song to assume each of these roles with discreet creativity.

In putting together an old style with a contemporary style, Ian Tordella makes no compromises with either style to make it work. By showing the way how the upcoming generations can get into undiluted jazz, he is doing his part to keep the music form viable after the older generations are no longer around.

Tragic Comedy comes out March 1, a product of the E Street Brand record label. Visit Ian Tordella’s website.

Purchase: Ian Tordella – Tragic Comedy

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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