At first glance, it probably causes the average jazzerati mind to blanche in confusion: why exactly would three New York stars like Jimmy Greene, Rodney Whitaker, and Gerald Cleaver decide to come together for an independently recorded and released disc from North Carolina-based pianist Scott Warner? Hardly known by fans (if not by itinerant jazz musicians of the last two decades), Warner would seem an odd choice as lodestone around which these three magnets might gravitate. Odd, that is, until one has heard the pleasantly surprising results in his cleverly-titled Mindfield.
Indeed, listening to the interplay on these ten tracks is a little something like observing a UN team on a de-mining expedition: all four musicians jumping headlong into sonically dangerous territory, couched in the cold-shock realization that once one has begun, there is simply no going back; the job must be done, without room for hesitation, indecision, or the chance to gloss over possible mistakes. Luckily, Warner proves more than capable in directing a group of experienced colleagues - they have been there before. Warner chooses to explore nine of his own engagingly varied compositions, anchoring them around a version of "Love for Sale" that manages to steal the day. Something like a mine that goes off, yet that miraculously injures no one.
As a composer, Warner shows promise, a fact supported by his numerous grants from institutions and foundations. That is to say, it is clear here that it has been time well spent. "Sojourn" is a haunting, keening line that stretches itself in a meandering way across the landscape; "How Bout Now?" makes one's toes tap with a resounding response, "Yes!"; "Evan's Essence," with its jaunty, open-shut tension and release yields lithe solos and the conviction that Evan must be a pretty hip guy; while the title track's switchbacks between minor-key maelstrom and major-key tiptoes beautifully capture the brilliant, blind quality of assured urgency. And yet, structurally they follow relatively conventional patterns, serving more as proof of Warner's careful study rather than his own creativity. The melodies are often catchy, if a little cerebral, but they fail to reflect an entirely personal voice.
Still, the solos throughout the set are top-notch, rarely lagging in cliché, and frequently opening out into something more profound. For not being a working band, the three New Yorkers - and Warner in particular - show their professionalism with a subtle mixture of anticipation and challenge, often melding into a sensitive, communicative whole. Warner has the ability to make the difficult transition between icy-thin lyricism and blustery, two-fisted fire; one minute sounding like an impressionistic Debussy with flatted fifths, the next romping like Junior Mance or Bobby Timmons in the midst of an uptempo blues chorus. It will be interesting in the future to see where this versatility and commitment will carry Warner.