Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: Borrowed Time (2005)
Bay Area bassist Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee writes in the liner notes to Borrowed Time, his second CD, that its music "grew out of a creative need to manifest the feelings [he] experienced becoming a father ; to convey "the joy, confusion, intimacy and sleeplessness of this defining period of life. I can't hear any of that on the album, but it's hard to miss the overall excellence of these compositions and the playing of Vaughan-Lee and the other musicians on this session. The core band consists of Vaughan-Lee, tenor player Mark Turner, keyboardist Albert Sanz, and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, and they're, ah, Berklee-riffic. Fellow Bay Area resident Erik Jekabson contributes trumpet or flugelhorn to four of the CD's ten songs, and tenor player Dayna Stephens plays only on "Vera, a two-tenor, minor-chord, pedal point slowburner.
The product is a successful blending of jazz tradition and the deeply technical new millennium sound in which the Fresh Sound New Talent label is so successfully specializing. The tunes that include Jekabson ("I Love NY, for example) have harmonized trumpet/saxophone heads that recall the Jazz Messengers, or at least those songs Wayne Shorter composed for the bandbut the shifting bass/drums pulse below is the farthest thing from hard bop. It's just as propulsive and hypnotic, though.
You won't find a more striking example of this traditional/modern blending than the album's opener, Vaughan-Lee's "Bella, where those Shorter harmonies sing over a slaloming Vaughan-Lee bass and a rapid, skittering drum pattern from Nemeth that sounds like it's cribbed from an Aphex Twin record. Somehow these parts combine to create a calm but bracing mid-tempo groove and the solos from Turner and Sanz (here on Fender Rhodes) are just fine.
Turner's irreproachable throughout, however. Sanz's "Esperanza has a brain-ticklingly uneven structure and seductive interplay between Vaughan-Lee's bass and Nemeth's drums (one thrills especially at the moment in his pattern when he hits the tom) and Turner nails his solo. It's hard to fault his clear-voiced tone and unique phrasing, with its use of rests alternating with long, complex phrases, and Sanz seems like his perfect partner in the way his spacious chords seem to envelop Turner's sax lines (listen to "Maybe So, Maybe No for an illustration). Turner also excels on "Ginnys Place, a ballad on which his melodic playing is accompanied by Vaughan-Lee's adamant, precise bass and Nemeth's breathing brushwork.
The title track feels like the heart of the CD, though; its ten minutes consist of nothing more than a bass/piano vamp, an aforementioned harmonized sax/trumpet theme, and some solos by the front line. Yet just as Turner's solo here spans multiple octaves, the rhythm section's playing spans a variety of configurations and intensitieswhile remaining at all times lithe, precise, and powerfully intelligent.
This is one of those bands where all of the players are doing something individually memorable at the same timebut without giving an impression of ego-driven grandstanding. This is a spacious, graceful and memorable session, and its band dynamic is impeccably represented by the CD's pristine analog sound.
Track Listing: 1. Bella 2. Maybe So, Maybe No 3. I Love NY 4. Esperanza 5. Vera 6. La Belle Dame Sans Regrets 7. Borrowed Time 8. Ginnys Place 9. Shall We? 10. Low Key Lightly
Personnel: Mark Turner: tenor saxophone (except #6); Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone (#5 only); Erik Jekabson: trumpet (#1,3,7,9); Albert Sanz: piano, Fender Rhodes; Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: bass; Ferenc Nemeth: drums