Ned Goold has beautiful command of tenor saxophone and extraordinary sensitivity, as suggested by his performance on Backstabbers’ Ball, the Smalls CD by the bassist on this set, Neal Caine, for whose playing the sleeve note writer (proprietor of Smalls Records) coins the good phrase “melodious thunder.” Caine has a big sound strong in low resonances, which lets him do the basic, basal bass job too many extraordinary technicians simply neglect to do. He has earthiness and relaxation to go with great energy and drive and real imagination, and is the most important player in this quartet.
His energy is matched by that of the pianist, Sacha Perry, and with a subtle and effective drummer in Charles Goold, this is an ideal ensemble, a point which has to be made prior to expressing some reservations about the leader’s performance. Ned Goold here plays very much in a manner which can be heard on old Lennie Tristano recordings, referred to as (capital C) ‘Cool’, but sometimes just at too low a temperature. It’s certainly not insulting to liken Ned Goold to the wonderful tenorist Warne Marsh, and the music here is never chilly like some Tristano-Marsh recordings, but as on those cold things there’s something not quite right happening here. Goold can seem at times to lapse into an excessive introversion, to leave the propulsion to Caine principally, and lose his way in what the liner note alludes to as an improvisational method of his own. His own solo playing leads off on every track, but on most he plays better and more interestingly when he comes in again after the solos by the pianist, bassist, and on some tracks the drummer.
Bernstein’s “Paris Waltz” is an improvement on the Goold-composed opener, with some melodic substance to elicit the tenorist’s exceptionally beautiful phrasing. The solo’s OK, but when Goold comes in quietly in duet with the bassist there’s a greater animation and interest in what he plays. He’s no longer out there with the oblique, fragmenting, and maybe even detached playing which sounds somewhat Monkish on “Goooold”. Is there evidence here of an off-day or off-period? “Lovely to Look At” is more satisfactory, and with the brisk tempo of “Please” pushing him along against tendencies to lay back and even lag, there’s another far from negligible performance.
Jerome Kern’s “(It’s Only) Make Believe” has wonderful lyrical phrasing on a short introductory passage, which fully brings out the merits of the melody and of the tenor saxophonist delivering it. Then there’s a fresh start and one clear example when Goold doesn’t come back much better after the others’ solos. I’ve no idea why “Sour and Ugly” is so called—it’s something like Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” with its elements shifted around, and Goold’s fragmenting manner too often misses any presentation of continuity. Many of the successive phrases or passages don’t seem to relate to what went after and what follows.
Perry’s approach here is like the most Monkish Bud Powell, and in general of so intensely well-worked a style he might be expected to continue a gradual development until one day he takes people by surprise. Here, he is lively when appropriate, relaxed, and strongly melodic, to an extent I’ve not heard from him before. On “What Is This Thing Called Love”, he pours out a joyous celebration of classic variants on that theme, and I have to say that while far from endorsing Ned Goold’s overall performance here, I do find the rhythm section delivering something special. I might even suppose the ultimate reason for my doubts could be the circumstance of Goold performing in a studio for the first time as leader of a quartet under his name. When he’s good, he’s very very good.