Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019
Personnel - Mark Turner: tenor and soprano saxophone; Kevin Hays: piano, Fender Rhodes; Joe Martin: acoustic bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.
Over the course of eight original compositions, the constituents of the album Étoilée, American bassist/composer Joe Martin offers us interesting musical moments. He is featured in a smashing quartet with saxist Mark Turner, keyboardist Kevin Hays, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Except for the latter, the remaining members had recorded the bassist's first album as a leader, Passages, which came out on the Fresh Sound label in 2002.
The two strongest pieces appear right at the top of the album's lineup. “A World Beyond” is subjected to a softly keened instrumentation, kicking in with a temperate bass groove and producing an unexpected polyphony in the head as Hays’ Fender Rhodes brings out an alternative melodic thread in the shape of comping. Turner irrigates each harmonic tunnel with his phrasal intelligence, while Hays improvises within a more reflective context. Elegance abounds.
The storytelling abilities of the artists stand out on “Malida”, a family-related composition introduced by a bass soliloquy that morphs into a McCoy-inspired modal groove in six. After exposing the theme’s melody in parallel, pianist and saxophonist enter in action-reaction mode during the latter’s solo. Hays also probes itineraries with grooving assurance and Martin closes out the improvisatory section with authenticity of touch.
“Prospecting” boasts enjoyable melodic fragmentation in the main statement and a feel-good articulation during the ad-lib utterances of the soloists. For this one, Martin took inspiration from the Brooklyn neighborhood where he and his family live. Lowering the vibrancy, "Two Birds" and “Long Winter” have much fewer slopes with the latter featuring a plaintive chamber coda with arco bass.
If the energetic “Safe”, a contrafact of “Just in Time”, draws from bop sources, “Étoilée” brings into play bolero-ish vibes with round edges, soft brushwork, and polished tones. Soprano saxophone and piano supply the improvisations.
Nothing better than having a gorgeous blues concluding this ride, and “5x3” accomplishes that mission with odd tempos.
Not being an ‘outside’ player, Martin, whose compositional style strips away major complexities or fusses, still shows a fondness for adventure.
01 - A World Beyond ► 02 - Malida ► 08 - 5x3