September 26, 2019


Ted Nash/Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison: Somewhere Else - West Side Story Songs

It's easy at times to think of jazz as a soloist's music, to focus on the improvisational wizardry of the player taking a solo and to let the "supporting" players (usually the rhythm section) fade to the background of your attention and interest.  But that is a mistake, because even as the music moved from the simultaneous improvisation and polyphony of early jazz to the individual soloist concept that has mostly pertained from the swing and bop eras through today, truly great group jazz (whether a duo, small group or big band) has always featured an almost telepathic connection among the musicians.  

On Somewhere Else - West Side Story Songs, the trio of Ted Nash (sax and clarinet), Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Ben Allison (bass) finds, in the songs from Leonard Bernstein's best-known work, the perfect vehicle for communal expression.  While each cut features improvised solos, the overall vibe of the album is one of interplay, conversation and give-and-take.  Rather than a formulaic "play the head and then everyone solos" approach, the tunes are presented with minimalistic arrangements that re-work these famous songs and showcase every combination and permutation of the 3 instruments.  

It's hard to pick just a few tunes to comment on, but I'll go with 2 of the most familiar tunes from West Side Story, "Tonight" and "Maria."  Both songs are played are played up-tempo...a departure from their positioning within the musical as lush, romantic ballads...which generates increased rhythmic interest without detracting from their melodic and harmonic beauty.  "Tonight" starts with the trio improvising in counterpoint before Nash solos (on tenor) over a more-typical comped chords from the guitar and walking bass.  It's not until almost 3 minutes in that the melody is finally heard.  "Maria" features a subtly driving vamp by the bass that propels Nash's gorgeous clarinet statement of the melody and solo.

There is a place in jazz (indeed, in all music) for the loud, fast and brash.  But the quiet and understated bring with them their own joys, which are in abundance in this outstanding album.

Posted by at September 26, 2019 10:32 AM