Down Blue Marlin Road
Reviewed by M.R. Smith
For all its justified reputation as the prime vehicle for musical spontaneity, jazz is still very much ruled by the cover tune. Few serious practitioners of the art are without a “fake book,” which allows them to carry a solid portion of the accumulated history of jazz music, in the form of melody/chord charts, with them at all times. Although it’s a useful tool, it can also be a trap, even a ball and chain to some. Who needs new tunes, with 80+ years of incredible tunes to work with?
As you get into John Esposito’s new “Down Blue Marlin Road,” you get a sense of new territory being explored; but yet, there is an odd familiarity. The song titles look like original songs, uncredited, yet slowly, it dawns on the listener, these are classic standards, retwisted, reharmoized, almost to the point of being unrecognizable. Utilizing another great jazz tradition, the reinvention of popular favorites (see bebop), Esposito and his trio has taken the jazz cover a step beyond, creating something unique and personal in the process, and seem to be having fun doing it. Jazz trainspotters can find the hints in the titles as well as the tunes (here’s one; put song titles 2, 6, and 10 together, subtract number 8). Everyone else can just enjoy the ride.
A repeat spin reveals a pianistic wit and wisdom that comes from a long and varied career, that is almost exclusively New York-based. As a sideman, Esposito made the Albany to NYC transition, along the way working with Nick Brignola, Arthur Rhames, Carter Jefferson, Pharoah Sanders, and Dave Holland, to name but a few, as well as briefly forming his own group Second Sight in 1985. Now on the faculty of Bard College, he seems to be in full command of his technique, sliding between McCoy Tyner-esque wide open chords and suspended arpeggios, and double octave runs which remind of the late Phineas Newborn, Jr. Esposito has a light and dexterous touch that leaves plenty of room for the rhythm section, which they warrant. Ira Coleman’s rich tone and uncanny pitch fills out the bottom nicely, with a lovely, understated solo intro in “Autumn,” while Peter O’ Brien’s simpatico drums, tastefully featured on “April,” get a bit more tone than your average jazz kit. The interplay is effortless, and satisfyingly dynamic. The old songs get a quality makeover here; only a major snob would disapprove.
Esposito and Co. have a healthy attitude about their “fake book.” Rather than being bound by it, they use it to jump off into new space. History continues past Green Dolphin Street, down Blue Marline Road, into the future.
All Music Guide
John Esposito is unquestionably a tinkerer of jazz standards, morphing, deconstructing and modifying them for his own, and the listeners delight. This pianist, with distinct cues from McCoy Tyner, reinvents well-known fare on this CD, generally stripping down titles to a single word, and reharmonizing the melody lines beyond recognition unless you listen closely. For the casual fan this will involve a bit of work, but those who do know these tunes as originally done, you will discover a keen sense of rediscovery and freshness within Esposito’s ten digits.
He splits “It Was Just…” and “Of Those Things” into an energetic display of virtuosity and a back halved solo projection respectively, while the “one” is cleverly replaced by “9” in 9/8 time. Tyner’s presence is obvious from this start on “Beloved,” a modal skittish spray of chords, fleet single lines and harmonic flourishes. “Red” is an offshoot of Charlie Parker’s “Red Cross,” the title track an arpeggiated and off minor harmonic romp based in the well-worn “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “April” is a jumping waltz interpolation of “April in Paris.”
The wit, wisdom and downright sarcasm of Esposito is startling, and a talent to behold throughout this project. Check out the easy solo treatment of “How Deep Is The Ocean” retitled simply “Ocean,” or the simpler but intricate adaptation of “Autumn in New York” dubbed “Autumn.” With bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Peter O’Brien, Esposito either manically or thoughtfully throws down these chestnuts, reconfigures them to his own taste and seasoning, and adds a virtuosity seldom heard in players interpreting jazz standards. A bold conception and execution to be sure, and with band mates that can hold up their end quite well, this recording is hopefully one of many to come from a brilliant player who deserves wider attention.
(Critic's Rating 3 1/2 stars)
Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide
Reviewed By: Thomas R. Erdmann
Review: New York State native and pianist John Esposito attended SUNY Albany as a composition major before spending several years there as the house pianist at the Gemini Jazz cafe. There he worked with J.R. Montrose and Nick Brignola in addition to leading his own jazz group before moving to New York City in 1980. Among the artist he’s worked with there includes Pharoah Sanders, Dave Holland, Roswell Rudd, Dave Douglass, Franklin Klermyer and Eric Person, among others. Today Esposito is on the faculty of Bard College where he teaches ensembles, jazz theory, repertory, and advanced composition techniques classes.
Recorded in 2003 and released in 2006 on Esposito’s own SunJump record label, Down Blue Marlin Road is a collection of reharmonized and rearranged jazz standards along with three original compositions, all done in the standard jazz piano trio format. Accompanied by bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Peter O’Brien, the trio plays with drive and energy on the up-tempo numbers and taste and style on the ballads.
One of the highlights is “Soul,” a reworking of the Heyman and Green standard “Body and Soul.” O’Brien’s deft brush work with double time punctuations, along with Coleman’s great bass statements which are interjected into melodic gaps, make this one of the better recordings of this piece ever set to disc. They don’t just go through the motions; they work to make the piece a singular ensemble statement.
Esposito’s reworking of some of the pieces results in the creation of some interesting sounds. “Autumn,” a backwards rendition of “Autumn Leaves,” is especially interesting. It is beyond doubt a totally different piece, and words extremely well. Esposito’s understanding of harmonic language is complete and aids in the recastings. While the liner notes state Esposito doesn’t respect all standards equally, mostly because he’s “sick and tired of being asked to play them,” you wouldn’t know it from his trio’s renditions of each tune’s extrapolations.
O’Brien shines on the reworking of “I’ll Remember April,” here entitled “April.” He shifts back and forth between three and four with such a smooth yet determined precision most would never know he’s doing it. Esposito is no slouch in the technique department either. His sure fingers and excellent touch, in addition to lightening quick abilities when needed and called for, as in “Red,” help to make this disc better than standard fare.
Overall this is a good recording that features, as its main point, extended harmonic reharmonizations and novel approaches to the usual standard fare. The end result is an interesting approach to the pieces all jazz musicians grow up learning, and for that alone this disc is highly recommended to students of the art.
– August 2007 by Stuart Kremsky
John Esposito, Down Blue Marlin Road, SunJump
Beloved / It Was Just… / Soul/ Autumn / April / …9… / Red / Ocean / Down Blue Marlin Road / …Of Those Things / Ganges.
Esposito, p; Ira Coleman, b; Peter O’Brien, d. 10/26 & 31/03, Catskill, NY
It’s now more than 60 years since the Bebop revolution, and musicians are still grappling with the implications and possibilities raised by Bird, Diz, and all the other pioneers. Take (1), for instance, where pianist John Esposito, working in the time-honored trio format, recasts a stack of familiar songs and adapts them for his own purposes. So “On Green Dolphin Street” gets rearranged into the title track for the first release on his own label.
“Blue Marlin Road” is both familiar and foreign at the same time, a feeling that occurs again and again as Esposito touches on bits of the known en route to his own music. The pianist has been recording for over two decades. First appearing with the band Second Sight on an obscure 1986 release. Most of his recorded work has been made with a relatively circumscribed group of musicians including percussionist Franklin Klermyer and saxophonist Eric Person.
Drummer Peter O’Brien, a sensitive and dynamic player, has also been working with Esposito for years. On bass, Ira Coleman, known for his work with Tony Williams, Billy Pierce, and Vincent Herring, anchors the group with flowing lines and a big sound.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what they’ve done with a particular song “Body and Soul,” for instance, a favorite of improvisers for many decades, gets turned inside out. I didn’t recognize any melody until a brief passage in a Coleman bass solo more than 2 minutes in. “Red” turns the tables on bebop, as Esposito plays a version of Charlie Parker’s “Red Cross” without using the “rhythm” changes it was based on. That’s all academic though. As a listener, there’s a part of me that doesn’t really care where the music comes from, whether it’s a score, a free improvisation, or some combination. I really just care where it’s going, and here we’re on very solid ground. Esposito’s main influence is clearly McCoy Tyner, but there’s a lot more going on. Since he doesn’t play as forcefully as Tyner, and doesn’t feel the need to have as loud a drummer, this allows the music to breathe more.
Do we need another piano trio album? Maybe not, but this release is a real pleasure, and one I’ll keep going back to.