In Tenor Saxophonist Mark Turner's New Album, The Music Unfolds Like A Narrative

Sep 4, 2014
Originally published on September 5, 2014 5:38 pm
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Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner records a lot as a member of the trio Fly and as a side man. But his new album is his first under his own name in over a decade. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, Turner's a thinking person's improviser.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner has a reputation as a cool customer. His improvising is more about the instant composing of lucid lines than blunt self-expression. Turner's new quartet album "Lathe Of Heaven" marks his third appearance on ECM Records this year, and the music he's written lends itself to that label's aesthetic. A lot of the action happens at thoughtful medium tempos, and there's some beautiful dissonance in the two-horn harmonies. But the players get a few moments to quicken their blood. Joe Martin is the bass player and Marcus Gilmore's on drums.


WHITEHEAD: Mark Turner tends to take his time and mostly avoids big emotive gestures some saxophonists rely on. His lean tone never gets in his way. Turner has a simpatico frontline partner in Avishai Cohen. The Israeli trumpeter's brash trio albums show his debate to Don Cherry and his plump round sound here, and the loving way it's captured recall a fellow disciple, the Italian romantic Enrico Rava. Like Mark Turner, Avishai Cohen brings a sense of order to his playing. He can draw a line and follow it.


WHITEHEAD: Mark Turner's "Lathe Of Heaven" takes its title from Ursula K. Le Guin's novel, where the nature of reality keeps shifting. Turner says he thinks of his music as unfolding like a narrative, and you can hear the parallels. The music doesn't give up its secrets too fast as he parcels out his themes and subthemes establishing mood through the slow accumulation of details. The slinky melodies map out the terrain foreshadowing the improvised action and interaction. That lets Mark Turner get of novelistic unity of effect. This clean plotting makes a cooler brand of jazz cool all over again.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz." He reviewed "Lathe Of Heaven," the new album by saxophonist Mark Turner's quartet. It's on ECM label and comes out next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.