JOEL FORRESTER’S SECOND NATURE
“Art for art’s sake” is a nice homily more honored in the breach than in the observance. What jazz musicians do is tangled up in many constraints and competing intentions. They consider commercial popularity, as Miles did in embracing Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, or temper artistic ambitions with popular sweetenings, as Creed Taylor’s productions did. And in today’s capitalist top-heavy age, patronage – that economic impetus of Renaissance art – is becoming more important and more influential on jazz musicians.
This album is as much the brainchild of “biotechnology entrepreneur and new music philanthropist” Glenn Cornett (who presumably financed it) as it is of pianist Joel Forrester. In fact, the press release for it credits Cornett with not only handpicking the band but the “musical approach was suggested by [him] and is inspired by his penchant for progressive rock.” It’s an odd fit for a jazzman best known as co-leader of The Microscopic Septet and leader of People Like Us to tackle an often grandiose style identified with the likes of King Crimson and Yes. Forrester’s ambivalence – also evident in the finished product – is revealed in his notes with the album: “I filled a few perfervid weeks in Brittany and Paris furiously writing music that didn’t swing. I mistakenly imagined that the great bass player Jean Bardy was into the Chapman Stick; and when he wasn’t, got him to play electric bass. I encouraged my regular drummer in France, Richard Portier, a master of subtlety and tact, to play LOUDER than his wont. Would that do?…I also suggested to Glenn that we call the band PFROG, seeking to capture in name what eluded me in deed.”
The results are equivocal, neither truly a jazz take on prog rock nor a prog rock-inspired jazz album, yet the tension between the patron’s wishes and leader’s jazz inclinations yield some fresh and surprising music nonetheless. “Second Nature”, done by the full quintet with piano-electric bass-drums joined by electric guitarist Manu Codjia (fully conversant in jazz-rock vocabulary) and baritone saxophonist Alex Hamlin (whose legato style and vibrato suggest an amped-up piccolo bass) features a patterned rhythm and stairclimbing melody redolent of King Crimson. On other tracks, Forrester employs such prog rock tropes as mixed time signatures and classical allusions like minuet (“Skirmish”) and pointillism (“Who Ever Knew”) and even includes a suite-like track suggesting etudes featuring a different instrument in each section (“Vortex”). Forrester sticks to acoustic piano and the tracks closest to the swing he professes to eschew are the trio tracks, or trio sections of others by the quintet. And repeated listening will reveal a whimsy and wit in the conception that might elude a first go-around – it did for me.
-George Kanzler (New York City Jazz Record, Sept. 2011)
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- Second Nature
- Spring Ahead
- Down The Road
- Who Ever Knew