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Live by Jazz Speak

There is a lot to like on the CD Live produced by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania based jazz quartet, Jazz Speak. First of all, it is a live recording. A live recording allows the listener to experience the "in the moment" and "you are there" qualities of being present in a nightclub or other performance venue witnessing the performance art of jazz. Also, there seems to be a different level of energy in a live recording as musicians may be more highly motivated by an atmosphere of "performing without a net" because they are not "secluded" in a studio away from the immediate reaction and response of an audience. Also, what is not to like about a throaty tenor saxophone with a big aggressive sound, a full voiced soprano saxophone or a hauntingly velvety flute accompanied by a light as feather yet driving rhythm section. Along with the crisp clean straightforward sound of the quartet, the inventiveness of the soloists during their improvisational flights of fancy also firmly holds the listener’s attention and demonstrates the performers’ high level of musicianship and technique.

The selections on the recording draw from a repertoire of modern jazz tunes written by Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, and John Coltrane. Jazz Speak saxophonist and flautist Ryan Kauffman also contributes an original tune "Yes Bossa" and an arrangement of the traditional tune "Shenandoah." Drummer Brock Woerner penned an original, "Trinidad" that concludes the recording.

"Trinidad," as one might expect, has a Caribbean flair to it and is very reminiscent in spirit to Sonny Rollins’ "St. Thomas" including a drum solo that is right on the mark with the one recorded by Max Roach in the 1950’s. Kauffman’s "Yes Bossa" is as advertised, a medium tempo bossa nova. The soloing on the tune by guitarist Gary Wenzel is noteworthy for its restraint yet wonderfully complex lines that weave through the tune’s changes. Other performances that deserve specific mention is the combo’s treatment of John Coltrane’s well known "Naima" and "Little Sunflower" penned by Freddie Hubbard. Although the same pedal points in the bass are present as in Coltrane’s original, rather than as a down tempo ballad Jazz Speak performs the tune as more of a medium tempo tune with a slight Latin accent. Kauffman’s wonderfully low and exotic flute sound dominates in the group’s performance of "Little Sunflower." The tune also features a sparsely accompanied solo by bassist Mike Wittrien in the quartet’s interpretation of Hubbard’s composition.

For listeners to jazz who enjoy clean, crisp sounds from a swinging, straight ahead modern jazz combo, Live certainly will satisfy a their expectations. This quartet provides a wonderfully unadulterated sound that would be a delight to any listener and a worthy addition to a CD collection. Certainly one looks forward to the next recording project of Jazz Speak.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jazz Speak
  • CD Title: Live
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Independent
  • Tracks: Speak No Evil, Bolivia, Pannonica, Little Sunflower, Yes Bossa, Black Nile, Shenandoah, Cissy Strut, Inner Urge, Naima, Trinidad
  • Musicians: Mike Wittrien (bass), Ryan Kauffman (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute), Gary Wenzel (guitar), Brock Woerner (drums and percussion)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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