I love to discuss the “outside” jazz artists who are way out on the cutting edge of the genre, but the cold hard truth is that the best hope for expanding the shrunken audience for jazz comes from the crossover guys. Luckily, there are some crossover musicians who give up nothing in terms of the integrity of the music form, which is why I get stoked when I come across such players like Stephen Richard and Marquis Hill. Well, there’s another such performer, a Chicago colleague of Hill’s, who’s been doing some quality jazz outreach since the formation of his quartet in 2005: the tenor and soprano saxophonist Chris Greene.
Chris Greene leads a foursome comprising of himself, Damian Espinosa (piano & keyboards), Marc Paine (double bass), and since 2010, Steve Corley (drums and percussion). The quartet has been rather productive since formation, making four studio albums since 2007 and now comes their first live album, suitably titled A Group Effort. In doing a live record, Greene wanted the recording quality to get as close to studio level as possible and thus chose Chicago’s Mayne Stage for the venue, which has its own in-house recording and broadcast studio, and superior acoustics to boot. Sure enough, the recording quality is up to snuff, with every musician clearly heard with ample separation. That enables us to focus on the performances themselves, which are pretty close to flawless, too.
A set that includes two songs a piece by Greene and Espinosa, another one Piane and Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa” to end the show, the CGQ wastes no time mining the groove. “Bride of Mr. Congeniality” gets going with a lopsided rhythm that’s very in the pocket; Piane and Corley work hand-in-hand to create this sumptuous groove, and when Greene launches into his solo on tenor is the first display of his signature style: a non-stop flow of notes in perfect sync with the beat, usually in double time. His approach continues on the Brazilian-tinged “Shore Up” and even when he reaches for his soprano sax on “Future Emperor of Evanston,” a reference to his Illinois hometown. On that tune, his straight sax evokes a little Grover Washington, Jr., but more in tone than in expression, which is all Greene’s. Greene takes a more soulful tact on the ballad “Three & Six” adapting his playing style smoothly for the style of the song.
In reaching out to the contemporary crowd, Espinosa’s role is key, too. Most obviously, he’s forgoing the acoustic piano for an electric one for three of the tracks (“Bride,” “Evanston,” “Stat,” and plays the acoustic one in a modern, Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock kind of way. But Espinosa never gets overheated and is a soothing component of the overall sound.
The rhythms used on these songs are some of the most appealing things of the CGQ, especially for younger audiences wary of old-timey swing patterns. A more strident samba beat is used for “Blue Bossa” than what you’d normally hear for this song, and as mentioned earlier, “Bride of Mr. Congeniality” boasts a uniquely funk strut, while “Stat” has a mildly hip-hop measure going for it, too.
Thusly, Chris Greene might be in command of the proceedings on this live document, but the other three cats in his quartet are hardly passive sidemen either, in carrying out the mission of playing jazz for people who only think they don’t like jazz. It truly is…a group effort.
A Group Effort was released June 26 by Single Malt Recordings. Visit Chris Greene’s website for more info.
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Introduction by William Kirk:
Bride of Mr. Congeniality: lopsided rhythm. Non stop flow of notes by cg, in sync with beat.
Shore Up: solo the same way but to a more conventional mid tempo rhythm. Piano solo.
Future Emporer of Evanston: soprano sax, with el piano. sounds like Grover. Afro Cuban beat. CG solos as before.
Stat: circular bass figure used like how footprints is constructed. El piano plays a variation of that, turns into extended solo. CG still soloing the same way.
Introduction 2: solo bass leads into…
Three & Six: soul ballad. CG plays straight with the melodic line. Sweetly played. Piano solo.
Blue Bossa:Kenny Dorham standard. Funky update on the bossa nova beat. Sharp drumming, check out the hi-hat work. Piano begins playing around two note riff that only suggests melody before CG finally lays it out. Piano solo muck like CG just did. drum solo on Tom toms.