|The final track on the new Fringe album is entitled “A Fringe Tribute to the New England Patriots.” The liner notes explain that The Fringe, born and raised in Boston, spent much of twenty years playing there at The Willow opposite Monday Night Football. Amusing no doubt but the Patriots, now winners of three of the last four Superbowls, are a good model to use when discussing The Fringe.
The Patriots have been lauded for exemplifying the team mentality. There are no superstars and each player is committed to winning above personal glory. Sound familiar? Let’s call George Garzone the Tom Brady of jazz saxophone. He is never on any “best of” lists but boasts a musician’s rating (quality of playing divided by size of ego) higher than most. Drummer Bob Gulotti is The Fringe’s Tedy Bruschi, selfless but the indisputable spark plug of the team. And John Lockwood, amazingly enough not the original bassist, fully signed with the team’s concept long ago and is willing to play offense or defense as is needed.
This is the band’s 8th album and, like the last two, is a live date. Anyone who has ever seen The Fringe in concert can attest to the fact that all their shows should be documented, so accomplished is the level of group interplay. Garzone is a well-respected educator and any Fringe show is mobbed by his students, all trying to absorb some of his magic (or else attendance is mandatory for a passing grade). What is remarkable, and apparent from this recording, is how The Fringe can make an audience sit in quiet rapture for one tune and then whoop and holler in a participatory fashion on the next.
Interestingly enough, this reviewer was transferring the first two Fringe LPs to CDs for someone shortly before receiving this new disc. The band has not changed since 1978 (despite Lockwood replacing original bassist Richard Appleman). This is not a swipe however and doesn’t mean to imply that the trio has not been actively growing over the years. What it does point to however is that despite any outside projects, when the three come together, they are a team and have been working to develop that chemistry methodically and deliberately.
The album’s structure is typical of the group. A long burner opens the set (“From Here to There”) followed by a few shorter pieces (“Theme for Jake,” “Maybe So,” “Prelude to Tonight’s Prayer” and “Tonight’s Prayer”) before ending with more lengthy, high energy numbers. The third- and second-to-last tracks feature “another great Italian” (to borrow Frank Zappa’s phrase), saxophonist Joe Lovano. Despite Lovano’s concept albums of late, it is well known that he is at his best when cooking. The combination of Garzone and Lovano (tomato sauce anyone?) on two hardbop inspired tunes (“All Aboard” and “Try This”) test the limits of how much saxophone one poor brain can take. The meeting recalls the great sax battles of decades past but in a more good natured, post-game weenie roast kind of way.
The album/performance ends with the Patriots tribute (the show was recorded mid-way through the Patriots’ second superbowl season) and is well-received by the raucous audience, including a fun call-and-response section.