Chris Kelsey

Renewal

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Chris Kelsey's triumphant return to the CIMP label after several years of hiatus delivers results that justify the wait. Sticking to soprano sax, and fronting a first-rate quartet with longtime collaborator Steve Swell on trombone, Kelsey produces a tour de force that highlights strong heads, tight arrangements, and compelling solos. Not only is this one of Chris Kelsey's best albums, it is one of the best jazz albums of 2004. While nothing here is unprecedented, from the two-horn piano-less quartet to the angular Ornette-ish melodies to the extended improvisations, the consistently high quality of the playing, combined with the pristine sound quality and the continuing state of tension, make this a wonderfully accessible album, yet one filled with quirky surprises. Kelsey stars as composer, his tunes absorbing the influence of George Russell in their harmonic constructions. As a soloist, Kelsey commands his "stick" with an uncommon confidence, snaking his way around chord changes with confident gusto. He blows the soprano aggressively, much more so than, say, Steve Lacy, but, like Lacy, Kelsey is a technically adept performer whose improvised lines are logically constructed and fascinating to follow. He especially shines on "Charlie Parker's Last Will and Testament," where he is the only horn, backed by bass and drums for a 15-minute romp. The growing legion of admirers of trombonist Steve Swell should be thrilled by his lengthy solos on the remaining four pieces, where he explicates alternatively spunky and gruff flights that might be characterized as Roswell Rudd meets J.J. Johnson by way of Jack Teagarden, as retold by Lewis Carroll. Bassist Francois Grillot and drummer Jay Rosen round out the quartet, which has the makings of a classic.

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