Assertive, masculine saxophone/drum interactions coexist alongside pleasant, feminine electric keyboard accompaniment, and acoustic bass and brushes meet backbeats on Merge, the third release from tenor saxophonist Chris Greene’s quartet. Featuring compositions from Greene, Billy Strayhorn, the Black Eyed Peas and Madonna, Merge is an energetic effort that, as its 77-plus minute running time suggests, goes flat out on all nine tracks.
Greene and drummer Tyrone Blair highlight the opener, the funk-flavored "Good Riddance!" While the leader jabs, bobs and weaves with the song’s melody likes a boxer, Blair’s timely responses from his snare prod and push the soloist and song along. "Good Riddance!" could have gone totally hardcore had keyboardist Damian Espinosa and acoustic bassist/co-producer Marc Piane dropped out and let Greene and Blair slug out the sounds, but "Merge" is a true ensemble effort. The quartet stays intact as Espinosa takes the intensity into a calmer direction via an electric piano solo.
"Merge" continues with a funk vibe on "You’ll Thank Me Later," introduced by bass and backbeat. While this song’s hook could earn airplay on "Contemporary Jazz" stations, its length, at nearly eight minutes, might have it reduced to sound-bites instead. That would be unfortunate, as Greene and his quartet deserve more. As on "Good Riddance!" Espinosa’s electric piano solo is presented via a panoramic effect. This technique, while flashy, adds nothing to this recording’s solid substance.
Greene’s ideas and sound come through best when he solos. This is true on "L.F.E.I. (Let’s Get It Started)," composed by the Black Eyed Peas, Greene’s "M. Tati," and Strayhorn’s "Lotus Blossom." On the former, Greene plays soprano saxophone. With the solos on these three songs in particular, one can almost hear the lyrics coming from his saxophone. Greene’s most impressive interpretation, however, happens on the standard "Out of Nowhere." Here, he effectively captures the big, wet-kiss tenor sound that recalls Gene Ammons, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. This performance also proves how the entire quartet can hear history while embracing the moment.
Beyond Greene’s four original compositions, pianist Espinosa also contributes "In Confidence." As the leader takes his second turn on soprano saxophone, Espinosa delivers his most expressive solo, propelled by a Calypso-like rhythmic bed provided by Piane and Blair. On "Lotus Blossom," Blair’s brushwork is the highlight, placing this song somewhere between a ballad and a waltz.
"Merge" succeeds because Greene takes risks, even if, as on one song, the results miss. This is most evident on "Borderline," co-written and made famous by Madonna. The attempt to make "Borderline" into a "Contemporary Jazz" vehicle is admirable, but the song’s sugar-coated content simply does not translate into any other context. But so what! Better sorry than safe, ya dig?