The trombone of Ray Anderson has met the reeds of Marty Ehrlich before. The two have, after all, known each other for over 30 years and have played together in Anthony Braxton’s band in 1978. But with Hear You Say, a live recording from JazzFest Willisau in Switzerland, an hour of music lets us in on just how familiar these two cats are with each other.
Rounding out the players are Brad Jones (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums).
The rhythm section of Jones and Wilson have a lot to contend with, though, as Ehrlich and Anderson make no bones about their energetic and often zany sparring. It’s hard to contain the fire these two produce and their interplay reflects the absolute joy they have when blasting off.
With the power and happiness on display, it’s interesting that Hear You Say opens with a number dedicated to a violinist. But out comes “Portrait of Leroy Jenkins,” a vivacious 13 minute romp that captivates in ways that the Chicago-born free jazz artist always could. There are little bits of New Orleans tossed in the steaming pot, but the cut mostly takes its roots in deep blues and splits out from there in ways that sit somewhere between grief and jubilation. At one point, I swear Anderson taps out a pinch of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”
With the procession over, Ehrlich and Anderson dip in to the “Hot Crab Pot.” This piece starts with some dramatic matching and ventures into a playful melody perfect for toe-tapping. Wilson and Jones do far more than just hang under some lovely unison playing. Anderson and Ehrlich kidnap bebop and take it down a little, soaking it in some spice and sauce before letting it soar back up.
Anderson’s impeccable technique and Ehrlich’s melodic drive combine for one hell of a showing, that’s for sure. The magic bears itself out in vivid colours on “My Wish,” a beautifully-paced, careful tune that lets the brass sing out.
There’s a reason the quartet earned a standing ovation at Willisau, that’s for sure. These musicians really dig to the heart of the conversation of jazz, invoking the spirits to play out what is one thoughtful, blistering set.