Marty Ehrlich's News on the Rail bursts from the gate with a gaggle of horns bent on making an ecstatic blitzkrieg of the aptly named "Enough Enough"--it's sufficient in spades. It's also a sublime fanfare, announcing that the 50-year-old composer-reedman is working with a sextet, his largest ensemble to date. Ehrlich's mating of Euro-classical and avant-garde jazz styles has always been influenced by his mentor Julius Hemphill (the late polestar of the World Saxophone Quartet) and, less directly, Charles Mingus, another master of horn voicings. Consequently, Ehrlich tunes are usually less esoteric and more robust than those of his fellow travelers such as Dave Douglas and Myra Melford. Even so, he's never afforded himself the breadth of options available on News on the Rail (whose personnel is more versatile as well as more plentiful), prompting emboldened gambits that are at once diligent and spectacular.
Take "Hear You Say," which leads with Howard Johnson's bumpity tuba bass line, and is enjoined by Ehrlich's blues-bop alto sax, blown with the beefy tone of a tenor. Then it seamlessly shape-shifts into another front-line duet between James Weidman's melodica and the bawdy muted trumpet of James Zollar. And right near the end, it all hones down to a sizzling extended note that sounds like the intro to Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." Listen to "Light in the Morning (Many Thousand Gone)" and try and figure out how Ehrlich makes brass and reeds sound like a string symphony--or wait and marvel at the tiny footprints drummer Allison Miller leaves astride Greg Cohen's bass solo. There are eight compositions in all, brimming with gently barbed melodies and harmonies that are by turns dense, dark, and diaphanous. Each one a present to unpack.
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