Fans of the late Julius Hemphill's Sextet will no doubt be familiar with saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, who eagerly lists Hemphill has his main teacher and mentor. Ehrlich performed with Hemphill on a variety of recordings, including the critically acclaimed "Fat Man and The Hard Blues," which also featured an up-and-coming James Carter. Ehrlich still leads the ghost version of the Julius Hemphill Sextet as well as his own Dark Woods Ensemble, both of which perform regularly in New York venues.
Ehrlich's latest outing on Enja is entitled "Song", and is described by Ehrlich as a meditation on the power of song's simplicity. Being derivative of his years with the Hemphill ensemble, the music on this album is daring, thoughtful, and complex. His quartet consists of Uri Caine, piano, Michael Formanek, bass, and Billy Drummond, drums. Mainstream jazz fans will quickly recognize the lineup to be not only a formidable group of New Yorkers, but a meeting of artists who have paid their dues in the arena of avant-garde and free jazz.
Ehrlich plays an energetic, piercing alto saxophone on most of the cuts, but switches to soprano sax on the ballad "Fauve" and adds bass clarinet to his instrumental arsenal on the opening and closing tracks. Three of the tunes are written by Ehrlich; the band also performs Robin Holcomb's "Waltz", "The Falling Rains of Life" by Jaki Byard, and Bob Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant". The band is joined by trombonist Ray Anderson for an Ehrlich tribute to Julius Hemphill entitled "Blue Boye's Blues". The introduction leads through a lengthy bout of free improvising before the band settles into a more familiar blues groove which carries the piece to its conclusion. Other tunes follow a similar form - a lengthy introduction which states the thematic elements of the piece, usually in free time, followed by driving solo sections and then a relaxed coda.
"Song" was recorded by Ehrlich's group immediately following a weeklong engagement at Sweet Basil in NYC. The album captures the freshness of a group still energized from live performances, but aided by the time spent honing the arrangements. Fans of modern improvisation in the Miles Davis-Wayne Shorter Quintet tradition will find this CD an enjoyable treat.