Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019
Personnel - Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Eric Revis: bass; Jim Black: drums.
The recently formed jazz quartet Nature Work is not a response nor is connected to other groups with comparable names like Farmers By Nature or James Farm. The band was formed by saxophonist Greg Ward and bass clarinetist Jason Stein, two Chicago-based creatives who had the wish to do something adventurous together. As trailblazing reed players, they would naturally need a titanic rhythm section joining to reinforce their playground of sounds. Hence, it’s not surprising the addition of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jim Black, two bedrock pillars equally comfortable in the art of improvised music. They play together for the very first time here, denoting a prompt rapport while treating the lower layers with rock-solid credibility.
The group's eponymous album is exclusively composed of originals - four by Stein and five by Ward - and was recorded last year in Chicago after two live performances.
The opener, “The Shiver”, validates Stein and Ward as inveterate communicators as they exchange complementary ostinatos. By the time these central ideas are unified, becoming unisons, Revis and Black ignite a robust swinging groove that fractures when the soloists change. By the way, the passage that makes the transition from Ward’s solo to Stein’s is phenomenal and their interaction, shortly before the theme’s reinstatement, is enlivening.
Throughout this work, the mood of a tune can tell us who the composer was. Both Ward and Stein’s approaches lean on the avant-jazz, yet the former infuses a lot of post-bop elements, usually vivid and outspoken, whereas the latter has an inclination to abstraction and non-linear melodies like heard on “Hem The Jewels”, introduced by an unassisted bass entanglement and grounded in a baffling, elusive groove with unisons atop; “Opter Fopter”, which vaguely searches with a cool pose before falling into a lovely pop/rock harmonically suggested by Revis and supported by Black’s impeccable brushwork; and “South Hampstead”, a syncopated rumination juddered percussively, where the horns share a few lines with carefree abandon.
In addition to the previously referred "The Shiver", there are a few other Ward compositions that stand out. The athletic “Zenith”, for example, is a showcase for Black’s incredible arrhythmias and splashing cymbals, so spellbinding and unpredictable. Timely unisons keep soaring above until Stein’s wild solo erupts, initially with drums as sole backing. Also highlights, “Cryptic Ripple” and “Tah Dazzle” give the soloists a great deal of creative space. The former starts varnished but becomes rugose, boasting a self-possessed rock-inflected groove with a waltzing looping bass cycle and boasting a zealous sax-clarinet debate; in turn, the latter composition is presented as a hyped-up blend of rock, jazz, and funk with a hint of Latin that comes from Revis’ bass accentuations. The co-leaders insert their resourceful ideas, tossing them around the rhythmic backbone, influencing dynamics, and promoting freedom of speech.
Nature Work is an affirmative collaboration for all the involved with beneficial effects for avid listeners.
05 - Opter Fopter ► 06 - Cryptic Ripple ► 07 - Tah Dazzle