Zack Lipton Quintet’s debut album First Steps on Point14 Records, a label which he founded, contains ten tracks of avant-garde/free jazz music. Like many avant-jazz artists, Lipton phrases melodic lines in a different way from traditional forms. For instance, there is no beginning and no ending in these compositions. The listener is brought into the middle of the musical activity left to figure out what is going on in these compositions. The album is one continuous brook that you can come into at any point and feel like you haven’t missed anything. You are right where the band was ten minutes earlier. The songs do not build up to anything and each instrument part has their own rhythmic lingo that when they come together, the notes sound disjointed.
The saxophone shapes performed by Lipton and the trumpet patterns played by Theo Croker are obtuse and at odds with the wobbly piano totters of Tobin Chodos. The listener cannot tell if these instruments are trying to play together or not. The piano and horns act as the primary instruments while bassist Jeff Hanley and drummer Craig Weinrib play a series of underlying chillout rhythms. The quintet delivers very experimental phrases and presents an inventive symbiotic that can be appreciated from an artistic perspective. One track stands out as much as the next. Each number has their own placement, interaction, and layering of chord movements. Avant-jazz pieces are very difficult to understand because they are such personal pieces. As a listener looking into these compositions, the music can either sound like a group of novice musicians merely tinkering with their instruments to find a good placement for their chords, or as highly complex pieces that explore notes which lay dormant in the music of most commercial compositions. The Zack Lipton Quintet reminds me of many haute coute designers whose gauche fashions can either be deemed as highly innovative or just tacky. It all depends on the listener’s ability to widen their perception of what makes a composition a musical form worthy of appreciation. You may find that the individual instrument parts are more laudable than the whole, like I did. Lipton’s pieces are conceptual, but somehow his though processes are lost in the translating them to an audience.
Lipton’s compositions are very personal and have reflections of avant-jazz ensembles like Le Balteuband and the Ganelin Trio Priority. Born in New Rochelle, New York, Zack Lipton was a child prodigy playing the saxophone at 8 years old. While still in high school, he played with the New York Youth Symphony Jazz Orchestra in their debut season. He graduated from Columbia University with honors and majored in Mathematics. Recently he played as a sideman in trumpeter Theo Croker’s Quintet whom Lipton recruited to play the trumpet in his own Quintet. First Steps was recorded on April 1, 2007 at Leon Lee Dorsey Studios in New York City, mixed by Paul Snook and mastered by Gabe Herman. The music was recorded on the spot and the recording sounds like it was done in a rush. This helps and hurts the album. On one hand it is fantastic that these compositions could all be done in one day, and on the other hand, Lipton needed more time to develop the concepts and mathematics involved in his twitching chord progressions and avant notes. It’s purpose becomes lost.