This album, which in the imaginary world of jazz critics has been spirited off to many a desert island, represents one of the genre's supreme paradoxes. It is a music in which the way is led by certain individual figures, most of them bandleaders. Drummer Billy Hart rarely records on his own, but has been in many great bands. Somehow, in this rare outing as a bandleader for the extravagant A&M Horizon series, he manages not only to make his best album, but the best album of participants such as Oliver Lake, Don Pullen, Dewey Redman, and Marvin Hannibal Peterson, all known as bandleaders in their own right. Bassist Dave Holland is also present as a player and composer, and while this album doesn't better Holland's Conference of the Birds, it is certainly on par with that masterpiece. These comments are offered not as a sniveling jazz critic counting great moments on an abstract abacus, but as a lifelong fan and listener to the music who recognizes there are really very few of these sorts of special records.
There are a variety of factors enhancing Enchance. Obviously, the players present are all individual stylists who bring personality, strength, and spirituality to all their performances. Lake has a composition at the beginning and the end of the record, while the others including Hart come up with one tune each. This gives the program a tremendous variety, along with the use of material coming from several different sessions with overlapping but not identical instrumental lineups. At the same time it is a remarkably consistent album that never gives the sense of jumping around from session to session or from the psyche of one creative mind to another in terms of the compositions. Hart's taste looms large over the entire project, since it has been his taste in projects as a percussionist that led him to contact with the players who are featured to begin with. He drums brilliantly throughout, including plenty of solo spots.
"Diff Customs," the opening track, is one of Lake's best jazz heads and the type of performance that, in the pre-cellular days, made car listeners pull off the road to either seek psychiatric care or call the radio station to find out where the album could be bought. The great studio production, obviously sparing no expense, is a real treat for fans of this type of music since every instrument can be heard so clearly, and so dynamically. Sometimes it is amazing how much material, including solos, ensemble transitions, and thematic statements, can be packed into less than three minutes, the length of Redman's "Corner Culture." The rest of the pieces range between four and nine minutes, and there really isn't a dull moment. The album actually seems to be something like the essence of so many enjoyable directions in improvised music during this period, and is full of the excitement such activity is known for when the action on the bandstand is at its best.