Elaine’s Song is bassist Chris Colangelo’s first record as a leader in ten years. Seven of the nine tracks are his. If you frequent the jazz spots inLos Angeles, you’ve seen him, heard his strong, supple playing, always right down the middle. You’ll find him with a lot of challenging saxophonists and pianists; Colangelo has no problem at all keeping their melodic (and not so melodic) flights firmly grounded, no matter how far over the edge they go. Nothing seems to scare him. He’s fromPhiladelphia.
It kicks off up-tempo with “The Ubiquitous One”, bass and piano and drums and sax sort of dancing off each other, laying the melody out in pieces for us. The tempo shifts and Bob Sheppard lays out soulful tenor sax lines, then flutters around the melody. Pianist John Beasley comes in carefully, thoughtfully, and departs again after a few flourishes. Sheppard takes another turn. A good opening. “Like Kenny” is for Kenny Garrett, one of Colangelo’s favorite players. Alto player Zane Musa joins in on this one with rushes of notes, crazy runs up and down and up and down, until everyone comes together for the head arrangement. Then Musa on alto and Benn Clatworthy on tenor and Beasley at the piano take a hard driving chorus each, then go round again for another, finally handing it off to drummer Steve Hass who adds hints of Elvin rolling across the toms. It ends in tight ensemble finish.
On the title track Colangelo lays down a strong bassline for Beasley and Sheppard to dance around. Beasley’s solo here is so nice, almost a melody in each hand, descending in big chords till a hard-toned Sheppard comes in. Colangelo follows him up with that lively, expressive solo (and check out Beasley quietly in the background). Sheppard brings us back to the melody over Beasley’s big chomping comps. It fades sweetly. Colangelo’s wife Elaine must love this thing.
Benn Clatworthy’s flute floats over “Green and Blue”, and Beasley’s got a soft touch here, tentative at first, right into Colangelo’s solo that you swear drops every note exactly where that note should be. It fades softly as the flute comes in again. Hass keeps the thing lively on cymbals and snare. You drift with this tune, not really knowing where it’ll drop you off. Has announces the end quietly in finger rolls on the snare. “Gryffindor’s Revenge” is a fast and straight ahead trio number. Things were cooking in the studio that day, Beasley’s on fire, and Colangelo and Hass are in that loose lockstep of a rhythm team completely in the pocket. This one has airplay all over it. Benn Clatworthy is back on tenor for “Watts Important”, dedicated to Jeff “Tain”Watts. Hass drives the thing from behind the kit, but listen to Colangelo walking it right down the middle, perfect, old school. Beasley lets loose here, fingers flying, Clatworthy edges toward the outside when it’s his turn, and the four of them together absolutely cook when saxophone stops blowing and Beasley trills a descending, falling thing into nothing but bass notes and high hat—a really cool effect. Just like that they’re all back ending in Hass’s rolling solo. Freeway driving music, this one, late at night, wide open.
Colangelo opens Steve Swallow’s gorgeous “Falling Grace” sparely, laying out the melody in the upper register of his ax, and in comes Beasley, strong, melodic. The drums slide in to make a beautiful trio number that seems to bring out the best in all three of them. That bass solo you swear is talking to you. Up next is “Straight Street”—not exactly a Coltrane standard and so rarely done by anyone it’s a kick to hear it here. Bob Sheppard takes it on the soprano and goes places with the melody, a lot of places, and Beasley follows with a nice jaunt of his own. For the final cut, “From Dark to Light”, Sheppard is back on tenor, leading the melody that reveals itself slowly over a hypnotic rhythm. The vibe is spiritual and the playing post-bop and the feel goes way back to the deep, deep roots of this stuff. You’ll find yourself swaying to it and the melody lingers in your head. It’s a perfect ending to this album.