In a day and age when social and personal narratives pervade the jazz recording medium, it is a welcoming feeling to experience a recording of superb jazz musicians playing music in the moment the way it's supposed to be played—for the people.
For his spring 2020 quartet release Trumpet Ship (Origin, 2020), Seattle-based trumpeter Thomas Marriott has summoned a powerhouse quartet that hits hard from the outset and never lets up. He has convened a band that shares his ferocity of approach, stretching the boundaries, while respecting tradition of modern jazz music. While many recent releases have been attached to some sort of conception, Marriott focuses the music on the fellowship that accompanies friendship and community.
Over the course of their long-time friendship, Marriott and Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans have shared their respective communities, with Marriott playing in Evans' Captain Black Big Band, and Evans traveling to Seattle to gig with Marriott at the now shuttered Tula's Jazz Club. Thus was the case when Evans landed in Seattle with his trio for a Tula's date, and dipped into Studio X on an off day to record this record in all of three hours. The first take approach paid handsome dividends, the spontaneity, indeed the art of the music, intact. Recorded in spring of 2016, Evans was yet to be summoned to the piano chair of The Bad Plus, and was on tour with his splendid trio, featuring bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr..
The album features Marriott originals, as well as covers of a Miles Davis classic, an obscure tune by avant-garde alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons, and an interpretation of the Jerome Kern standard, "All the Things You Are." For the latter, the quartet draws figures around the melody, with bright rhythmic splashes from Whitfield, alluding to and finally embracing the melody in the end. In essence, this tune, as well as the Davis, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter gem, "General Assembly," reveals that the foundational brilliance of the effort lies within the brilliance of the musicians themselves. Marriott's collaborators give this work still greater power, thanks to Evans' deeply intuitive pianism, Curtis' seamless bass work and above all, Whitfield's oft-meteoric contribution on drums. For all the fire and fury of Whitfield's solos and accompanying figures, he somehow creates a symphony of percussive sounds without overplaying.
Nowhere can the dynamic between Whitfield and Marriott be more evident than on the drums/trumpet duet, "Funny Uncle." Amid Whitfield's fluid motion, Marriott creates a fury of sound that blows like a gale force wind, rising and falling between the groundswell of percussive tonality elicited by Whitfield.
The title cut, penned by Sonny Simmons, and Marriott's tribute to his son, "Song For Samuel," are full bore, post-bop romps that explode in a torrent of exchanges between Marriott and Evans. The two play off each other with nimble and fluid melodic ideas. Whitfield chimes in with a devastating solo on "Trumpet Ship," while Marriott coaxes a broad pallette of expressive tones and angular, boppish intervals navigating the harmonic waves generated by Evans' top shelf trio.
Evans displays a piano mastery that seems to express the entirety of the jazz tradition on Marriott's "Behind the Beard." He lends beautiful, chordal harmonic support of Marriott's muted horn, and Curtis' haunting bass line. The dark, brooding melody line is shaped and then re-shaped by Marriott, with Whitfield's sharp, malleted attacks underpinning the effort.
Marriott and Evans first recorded together in October of 2011, when they captured a live date at Tula's with Marriott's band, Human Spirit. Dialogue (Origin, 2012), featured Evans and bassist Essiet Essiet, along with top Seattle players Matt Jorgensen and Mark Taylor. Marriott brought in Evans along with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Donald Edwards for the well received Urban Folklore (Origin, 2014), two years later. In the interim, the two bi-coastal friends developed a personal and musical friendship. There is an intuitive trust in their playing that is plainly evident on this recording, as well as their time performing together live.
Marriott focused on beauty and melody on his last Origin release, Romance Language (Origin, 2019), a personal vision that evolved over a decade of time. On Trumpet Ship the time is in the moment, with each of the four contributors being fully aware of the moment at hand, and the opportunities that are presented in each. The result is a stunning success, and a sure- fire album of the year candidate.