Roy Nathanson has had a varied and richly diverse career in and out of music. The multi-reedist co-created the Jazz Passengers, a group with releases on 32 Jazz and Windham Hill, among other labels, and as a leader has released discs on Tzadik and Knitting Factory. As a serious student of the saxophone he studied with Jimmy Heath and Joe Allard, and has appeared as an actor in a few movies. As a teacher Nathanson not only teaches privately but also runs workshops, does guest lectures, was named a five-year Annenberg Fellow at a Queens, New York public school, and has received two Meet The Composer grants to create music for children. As a performer Nathanson has worked with Charles Earland, and the Lounge Lizards.
This recording is about as diverse, yet still be singular in vision, as is possible. A number of the tracks incorporate spoken word in a quasi Ken Nordine Word Jazz manner. The lyrics are not just inventive but show a mind questing and searching for ways to bring disparate events and concepts together in coherent and well-organized systems. "Party," for example, sets out words related to subway events and visions mixed into a bed of human-produced beatbox types of sounds that, in their own way, produce a subtle urban configuration of musical colors.
"Dear Brother" is another such composition. With a spoken lyric of New York’s local neighborhood jaunts accompanied by improvised trombone and violin, along with a hip bass plus percussion line, Nathanson paints in shades of similar hues that upon completion are as wonderful and freakily mixed up as Picasso’s best work. Adding subway train-like announcements, and a prerecorded vocal choir at the end, one wonders if there is any limit to Nathanson’s inventiveness.
Nathanson’s soprano and alto saxophone lines are improvised and written, but always performed in a manner harkening to a search - to or for what isn’t important, it’s the act of the search that presents the challenges and the excitement. His saxophone on "Alto Rain" is full of melismatic slides and intonational variances that, while being out of time, are not out of mind. There are only a few artists on the face of the planet who can make these voyages exciting, such as Evan Parker and Ken Vandermark; Nathanson is firmly one of these futurist thinkers.
With all of the above stated one wonders if this is indeed jazz. While certainly no serious student of classical composition should miss this recording, and the fact that parallels between Dave Douglas’ most inventive music and this recording are plenty, in the end one cannot help but conclude that what Nathanson has fashioned is a new way to look through the jazz prism and find new colors in wild abundance.
For those open to forward-thinking this recording will give much contemplation. To serious modern jazz students this disc will keep one on the edge of their seat wondering what each successive track will be comprised of and guessing as to how it fits with all that has come before. Then to those who only want swing and view jazz with blinders, avoid this disc at all cost.