We’ve chatted up the winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk saxophone competition a lot, and Jon Irabagon has managed to insert himself into a lot of vital jazz albums since his big win. You know, the guy who came in second isn’t so shabby, either.
Tim Green is, like Irabagon, a seriously good saxophone player; you can’t make it into the final round of the Monk Competition without having some substantial chops, and the runners up tend to go on to careers comparable to the winners: Colin Stranahan, Gerald Clayton, Ben Williams and Aaron Parks are some I can think of offhand who’ve since made some deep impressions in the jazz world. Green himself has made waves performing with the likes of Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller, Jon Faddis, Christian McBride, Carl Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Hubert Laws, Kenny Burrell, Joe Chambers, Patrice Rushen, Sean Jones, Jeremy Pelt, Warren Wolf, Larry Willis, Cyrus Chestnut, Gary Bartz and Wynton Marsalis. He’s also shown a deep connection with gospel music, and his first album, Divine Inspiration (2005) explored his affinity for hymns and spirituals.
Songs From This Season is his first post-Monk Competition album, nearly five years hence. However, it quickly becomes clear that he’s invested into his craft during that intervening time, because this is the product of a fully-formed and mature talent.
The spirituality is carried over — a few tracks even make biblical references in their titles — and plenty of modernity to go along with a solid foundation in tradition. It also helped that he surrounded himself with likewise young and dynamic musicians like Orrin Evans (piano), Warren Wolf (vibes), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Kris Funn or Josh Ginsberg on bass and Rodney Green or Obed Calvaire on drums.
Some of Green’s biggest influences are mentors like Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard and Kenny Garrett. The spirituality Green brings to his songs invites some comparisons to the spirituality that Garrett brings to his, even though the two do not play the saxophone the same way: “Philippians 4:13,” for instance, reveals his deep gospel roots even though it’s not a gospel styled song and “Shift” is an anthemic ballad accentuated by wordless vocal . But certainly, a strain like the introduction piece “Psalm 1″ puts listeners on notice that Green is also big on rich melodies and improvises within those pretty structures he’s set up.
He does this using a multitude of other approaches. For his Miller and Kenny Kirkland tribute “Dedication,” he doubles with Wolf in a modern jazz setting with a well-conceived melody. He plays it in different signatures, revealing different facets. Later in the song, there’s a lively call and response between Wolf and Evans that tops off what is already a solid track.
The performances that Hekselman participates in are greatly affected by his presence. “Siloam,” a twelve bar blues in 10/4, is given a rough edge by his guitar. Hekselman and Green engage in fusion-ish guitar/sax unison runs, as they do to accentuate the harmony for other cuts, and Gilad slays his solo. Hekselman also brings rough edge to “Time For Liberation,” climaxed by Calvaire and then Green soloing on his two chord rock riff. On “Philippians,” his clean, refined lines are a dead ringer for Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Wolf tends to act as a completely different kind of counterpart to Green, one who smooths out the sound. He’s suave on the urban groove “ChiTown” and doubles up with Green on “The Queen of Sheba” before going on an impressive tear.
Green likes democracy and not getting in the way of the melodies, but he has plenty of good individual moments, too. He steps out on the high wire with Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio” supported only by Funn/Rodney Green, and makes it to the other side with flying colors, using some acrobatic phrasing that never, ever loses sight of the song. The one other cover “Don’t Explain” is cast in a forlorn, nocturnal setting. Green makes his sax almost sing the lines using vocal style phrasing, helped along by Evans’ empyrean touch on piano.
A collection of songs with both variation and vision, Songs From This Season is affirmation of the praise Tim Green has received from judges, mentors and peers. It’s a big step toward being second to none, from being second to Irabagon.
Songs From This Season will be released on February 12, from Green’s own True Melody Music label. Visit Tim Green’s website for more info.