The first-call acoustic bass player best known in five words or less as “Branford Marsalis’ bassist since forever” is preparing to release his own led-date In Memory of Things Yet Seen (March 25, 2014, Clean Feed Records). For his fifth one, Revis ditches the piano, doubles up on the saxes and often steps outside. Think Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds quartet with Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers blowing the reeds together.
Revis’ Braxton and Rivers super duo comes in the form of Bill McHenry (tenor) and Darius Jones (alto), perfect choices because they can get chatty like mockingbirds on the free-improv “Hits,” ignite in tandem on the barely-contained Sun Ra number “The Shadow World” and then turn right around and play lyrically around a memorable Revis bass riff on a tender respite from the madness, “Hold My Snow Cone.”
For the drums, Revis calls upon Chad Taylor, forming the same formidable rhythm section that fueled recent records by reedman Avram Fefer, like the Eliyahu album we surveyed a few years ago. Together, these two lay out all the parameters for a song, leaving McHenry/Jones frontline free to articulate harmony and blow their brains outs. They form a runaway train on “Hits,” devise a catchy circular bass/drums figure for the basis of the song “Son Seals” and form the core of “A Lesson Earned” with an irresistible, circular bass riff welded to a rock beat.
Branford himself shows up on a couple of tunes, swelling the ranks of sax players to three unbelievably talented masters. “Unknown” has a theme that’s avant-bop, not too unlike Tristano or Dolphy. After the head, Marsalis peels off to deliver a swerving, swinging solo that traditionally minded, and Jones follows with smooth alto flourishes that finish every statement of his with a rough note. “FreeB” is the rare free improv that Branford participates in, but within that cacophony of moderate wailing, he can be heard making cries of tradition amidst the atonal wails. And, it fits.
There are plenty other cool moments, like when Taylor and Revis go down one stream during “Somethin’s Good,” while McHenry and Jones pursue another, parallel one. Or when the two saxophonists portray two, complementing views of the same theme, only to wind up at the same spot at the last few notes end of each bar. Or lastly, the organic funky groove of “The Tulpa Chronicles, Part II,” with counteracting expressions by McHenry and Jones. At only two minutes long, it’s way too short.
Revis himself sums up the mission of In Memory of Things Yet Seen on the mark when he states that there’s “much reverence for tradition and the tradition of taking things forward.” Using the rich past of jazz as a springboard to jump ahead and stretch out to the capabilities of these amazing musicians is why Eric Revis has made such a fine record.
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