|Better-known as jazz educators, clinicians and studio musicians, trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm and vibraphonist David Friedman prove that their improvising spirit is too strong to be snuffed out. Ear Mix also shows that superior mainstream jazz isn't just the province of the young, or the elderly. It can also be made spectacularly by middle-aged to older stylists.
Americans Stamm, born in 1939 and a veteran of the Stan Kenton, George Gruntz and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis bands; and Friedman, born in 1944, whose vibes and marimba have been featured on discs by performers as different as Tim Buckley, Hubert Laws and Wayne Shorter; are joined by two Europeans of a similar vintage here. Swiss drummer Daniel Humair (born: 1938) has worked with everyone from Phil Woods to Anthony Braxton. French bassist Sébastien Boisseau, who also plays in Martial Solal Newdecaband, may be part of Humair's Baby Boom combo, but his balding pate in the photo suggests he's more boomer than baby.
Together, the four are the epitome of taste and restraint on the eight compositions here. Sketch's sound is so crystal clear, however, that it elucidates the disc's one drawback: a lack of sweaty passion and jagged, ragged edges. Then again, considering that the four are consummate professionals and technicians, expecting anything less than a note-perfect performance is like expecting punk bands to know more than four chords.
Sonic perfection is most off-putting on Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus." Delivered with a smoky jazz club feel, it appears as if Friedman's vibes motor is spinning at half-speed, while Stamm double tongues with subtlety. He may flourish his chops at the end, but never hits a bum --or unexpected -- note.
Far more impressive is the swift "Toy Master," with Friedman's note placement such, that it almost appears as if he's playing an electric guitar, until he creates repetitive patterns and a abrasive mallet slide across the bars. Stamm, who holds his final introductory trumpet note for an elongated 15-odd seconds at the top and uses his cup mute to squeeze out tiny Miles Davis-like droplets of sound, then assumes a new persona, open-horned, breathing out grace notes and smears before ending with a crescendo. Boisseau's "Pablo" extends this Milsean mode still further, where the Harmon-muted trumpeter buzzes his lips to near silence then caresses the notes, with this gentleness brushing against the measured, rock-hard weighed and measured notes from the vibist.
Imagine speedy, note-perfect, but punching flugelhorn tones confronting swaying, percussive, elastic vibe tones and you'll get an idea of what "Bois d'Arbre" sounds like. Here, and elsewhere Friedman's style is mostly rhythmic. Despite using four mallets, in spots his interpretations are more related to Lionel Hampton's tuned drum approach then the balladry of Milt Jackson or Gary Burton.
Don't think that the native Europeans are neglected for their cross-channel associates either. Both Humair and Boisseau are such perfect hosts, that their rhythm section alchemy doesn't interfere much. Still, on a tune like "Huchedu," you'll hear a slipping, sliding bass lead and on the final track, written by Stamm, the bassman's rhythmic pluck has the strength usually associated with a bass guitar.
Different patterns, accents and tones have always characterized the Humair's work, as well as his preference for brushes over sticks. With cymbals and snare heads more in use than the bass drum or floor tom, he may take drum solos here, but they're those of an accompanist, not a percussion poser.
In the end, despite its tendency to often skirt pretty, background music, the CD comes across as an exercise in subtle swing. Plus it's proof that mainstream milestones can be made by musicians who are neither callow youth nor storied oldsters who still remember FDR's funeral procession.
-- Ken Waxman