CALLICOON SESSIONS - Cadence Jazz Records
Marc Medwin, The New York City Jazz Record, May 2014, pg. 16.
(Reprinted with Permission from The New York City Jazz Record)
The composer Dieter Schnebel’s innovative transcription of Schubert’s G-Major piano sonata includes a layer of harmonies, which, though not heard in the sonata, are present by implication. Pianist Kazzrie Jaxen’s treatment of standards on her new quartet disc employs similar complexities. The tunes are there, but Jaxen’s harmonies veil them in mystery while simultaneously illuminating them afresh via some of the most vital interpretations they have received in some time.
Jaxen, tenor saxophonist Charley Krachy, bassist Don Messina and drummer Bill Chattin made these recordings over several years, straight to DAT and never intending to make an album from them; but as the group-penned liners make plain, they were aware of something special as the recordings were assembled. There is something ethereal and yet down-to-earth as old tunes are made new, as when, to delve into only one representative example, Jaxen, Krachy and Messina swing into All the Things You Are, Krachy and Messina in relaxed and flowing counterpoint during the head. Chattin’s entrance kicks the swing up to the next level, glittering cymbals and perfectly-timed snare punctuations serving to place rock-solid bass drum and hi-hat in stark relief.
Yet, none of this explains how the music lifts off and floats amidst Krachy’s altered tones and over Messina’s pizzicato double stops, amazing in and of themselves. Much of the freedom must come down to Jaxen’s voicings. Despite her prodigious harmonic language, her allegiance to what the others are doing is always evident and she’s not so much pushing beyond rhythmic boundaries as using them as points of departure and return. It is a joy to hear how she weaves fragments of What Is This Thing Called Love's melody into a solo of huge dynamic and harmonic contrast, almost forming a language of varying densities as Messina and Chattin lay the groundwork.
These recordings give new meaning to the words freedom and tradition, juxtaposing them in ways that render them useless. The recording is a no-nonsense audio portrait, leaving room for the playing to breathe and bloom. A great disc from an innovative ensemble.
Kazzrie Jaxen Quartet
What Is This Thing Called Love?; My Melancholy Baby; My Foolish Heart; You Stepped out of a Dream; All of Me; Foolin' Myself; Callicoon: The River / The Train; S' Wonderful; All The Things You Are (64:18).
October 2009-July 2011.
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1243 CD
**** (4 STARS)
(Jazz Journal does not usually review albums released three years ago, but this is an exception, through a series of mishaps it never tumbled onto on the editor's desk, and as Ms. Jaxen isn't prolific, we're reviewing it nonetheless.)
Recorded at her studio in Callicoon, NY, the ethos is Tristano-ish, of course that means influences from Lester Young, Charlie Parker and others. It's no criticism in any case, the sound world is very distinctive and characteristic. In particular that applies to Kazzrie herself, listen for instance to the delightful solo on the uptempo romp My Melancholy Baby, one of several 1920s songs on the album. Polyrhythm, polytonality and contrapuntal exchanges with tenor-sax make for an engagingly baroque style.
Tenor saxist Krachy's debt to Lester Young is especially clear on My Melancholy Baby, and on the haunting ballad My Foolish Heart. Don Messina and Bill Chattin form a very simpatico rhythm team. One track is a free improvisation: Callicoon: The River / The Train. The music of Tristano and his students is meant to be cerebral. If that means intelligently-conceived, this album is, but it's also joyful and exuberant.
Jazz Journal (UK) 2016
Here are a couple releases, one studio, one in concert, from a hip quartet lead by pianist Kazzrie Jaxen. Her team consists of Charley Krachy/ts, Don Messina/b and Bill Chattin/dr, and lemme tell ya, I wanna see them in concert!
Tenor saxist Krachy must take his Prez pills every morning, because he’s got a breathy and lithe tone that evokes smoky images of Lester Young, and it’s addicting. He swoons on concert pieces such as All The Things You Are and sighs on She’s Funny That Way. Meanwhile, Jaxen is solid and yet artsy on the piano, sometimes throwing curve balls and change ups as on the playful When You’re Smilin and showing her influence from Lennie Tristano on that piece, but also on the more obvious Lennie’s Pennies, which has the sax and piano slither like Little Egypt. There’s a take of All of Me that has vocals, but it doesn’t matter as Krachy’s tenor is all you need to get by. Artsy and atmospheric jazz at its best. I want more!
The studio date spotlights Jaxen’s playfulness a bit more, as throws in some tricky chords that go from hot to cool on What is This Thing Called Love and brings a feisty undercurrent to My Melancholy Baby. Krachy is still rolling in like a London fog with long and lonesome tones on My Foolish Heart. The rhythm team is adroit and 50s West Coast Cool hep, with Messina doing a nice little handball tournament with Kracy on As classic in its style as a Mozart Symphony.
Lennie Tristano founded a distinctive school of modern jazz that continues to attrack adherents today. We can call it a school because Tristano was a genius, and a great teacher - really the first and probably still the greatest in jazz. These players have studied his work till his approach becomes second nature, but they use it for their own expressive ends. The standard material here on Quaternity is imbued with the aspiration for spontaneous improvisation, and the band is - to use a favourite word of Lee Konitz - totally simpatico. This album shows the continuing relevance of the Tristano School to contemporary jazz.
Andy Hamilton (January 2016)
Author of Conversations with Lee (Konitz)