Just as Herbie Mann found New York filled with hundreds of Lester Youngs in the mid ‘40s, forcing him to turn to the flute, and just as, a few years later, Charles Mingus observed that "If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats," so today, there are a thousand superbly equipped tenor players in New York who sound like latter-day John Coltranes.
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Ted Nash, a veteran of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Gerry Mulligan Big Band, the National Jazz Ensemble, and the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, is similarly equipped when it comes to technique, but has a larger vision, as is reflected in his own projects. Wisely, in my view, Nash expands his tonal palette to include saxophones, clarinets and flutes, and sets them in contexts that draw on multiple genres both within and on the fringes of jazz. Odeon, the group featured here, mixes and blends Argentine tango, Eastern European street music, New Orleans second line and modern jazz. Working with a combination of his reeds, violin, accordion, drums and Gayton's assortment of brass instruments, Nash has written three originals and some very original arrangements of well-known pieces. "A Night In Tunisia" is a case in point. Nash breathes new life into this modern jazz warhorse with a largely tango-based arrangement. In the liner notes, Nash comments, "When I first heard the tango, I almost laughed because of how dramatic it was, but I realized it wasn't without some sense of humor. Years later, when I stepped onto the dance floor of a late night tango club in Buenos Aires, other people were probably laughing, but I was having fun." This arrangement, and Nash's alto solo, makes me laugh out loud. "Tico Tico," with its brilliant writing for clarinet and violin, produces a similar result. Subsequent tracks consciously, according to Nash, draw on different affects. "It has been my goal to express many different emotions on this recording," he writes, "There is humor on "Tunisia"," romance on "Sebago," urgency on "Tico Tico," passion on "La Espada," optimism and tragedy on "Concierto de Aranjuez," and playfulness on "Walk this Way."'
It was a particularly bold move to tackle Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," which, after the Gil Evans/Miles Davis version from 1959, has been mauled by a number of jazz artists, leaving only the original orchestral version worth listening to. But Nash manages to correct that, first by tackling the first, "Allegro", movement as well as the more familiar "Adagio", and then by his truly imaginative writing: his distribution of the orchestral parts between accordion, violin, clarinet and tuba during the "Allegro", for example, or his juxtaposition of alto flute flourishes with Gayton's trombone during the "Adagio" (Nash should play more flute by the way!), followed by soulful alto sax and violin and accordion cadenzas before the final ensemble, concluding with some gutbucket trombone. The writing is so fresh that what would be a fine but fairly routine tenor solo during the "Allegro" is thrown into sharp relief.
My only question about these tracks is to wonder why Nash didn't try to tackle the final movement also. With the CD running just over 50 minutes there is room for it. But money, studio time, etc. are also considerations. As it is, the final track "Walk This Way," a blues with a strong New Orleans second line feeling, brings the set to a joyous conclusion.
Nash's own words from the liner notes do a better job of summing up the session than I can. He writes that it ". . . shows my appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the cultures in this world, particularly Latin culture. I find its music to be very passionate. It expresses warmth, humor, ultra-seriousness, romance, tragedy. It is life. Although jazz music can tend to be quite intellectual, it is also very expressive, and the perfect base with which to combine these elements." The success that he has had with this and his previous recordings shows a path that others will hopefully follow in expanding this wonderful music tradition.