The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet: Hear You Say, Live in Willisau

Free, fun, and funky, this is a jazz group that one hopes will get more chances to play and record.

The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet

Hear You Say, Live in Willisau

Label: Intuition
US Release Date: 2010-11-09
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25

The fault line in jazz, historically, has been between “mainstream” playing -- whatever that meant at any given moment in the music’s history -- and playing that strayed “out” beyond the harmonic or rhythmic norm. At one time, Basie was mainstream and the bebop of Charlie Parker was “out”. Later, bebop became the norm, and the likes of Ornette Coleman were “out cats”.

Today, happily, the line is blurred. But somehow, it still pertains as well. When critics and musicians get into little jazz tiffs, it’s rare that the rub doesn’t somehow cycle back to an old/new, in/out split. Too often, musicians get caught in the cracks of this split.

Ray Anderson is a good example as any. Anderson has roots in the progressive side of jazz -- his first key gig was with Anthony Braxton, and he came up associated with the AACM in Chicago. Yet in practice, Anderson revels in many of the down-home elements of jazz trombone, facile with funk and New Orleans styles and with a gift for melody. He has probably played on as many blues or soul recordings as he has avant-garde jazz dates. And his playing in recent years has been a fair summary of it all. He should be better known.

It makes sense that Anderson is leading a band with Marty Ehrlich. Ehrlich plays equally beyond category, with apprenticeships with Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton, but also rich associations in klezmer jazz, chamber jazz, and cerebral downtown music. Ehrlich’s sound on saxophone and clarinet is often the opposite of Anderson’s blowzy party tone; he usually sounds thoughtful or even studied. Yet both have a flair for variation. These are players who like to move across styles with impunity.

Hear You Say catches the Anderson-Ehrlich Quartet live, driven by the rhythm section of Brad Jones on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Wilson, as always, plays with an alert and lively presence that keeps the band on its toes. The stars, however, are the leaders, whose voices are drenched in flavor throughout. “Hot Crab Pot”, by Anderson, has a bebop melody statement, but the solos by each horn lurch into fresher, different territory. Anderson solos freely over a grooving accompaniment that swings yet allows the trombone a ton of room for growling and free movement. When Ehrlich enters on alto sax, however, the time breaks down into fragments. Wilson begins playing a cluttered kind of ragged time, with Jones accompanying without any natural walking pulse. Ehrlich solos entirely outside any chord changes, focusing on texture and tone more than harmony, and when the swing eventually returns, Ehrlich remains outside the tune, playing with a luxurious freedom.

But that one tune hardly pegs this group. “My Wish” is a ballad that finds Ehrlich keening the melody on soprano while Anderson plays a fluttering improvised harmony. The solos are reasonably inside the harmony. But then “The Lion’s Tanz” opens with an alto/trombone duet that is wildly free, with both players pulling out all stops -- Anderson grunts and squiggles and uses a mute, while Ehrlich plays multiphonics, squeals, and blurts. When the melody comes, it has a good amount of the circus in it, followed by an avalanche of collective improvisation. “The Git Go” has effortless groove, but the written tune is all fancy footwork in the post-bop vein, with clarinet and trombone dodging about each other with intellectual brilliance. These compositions, like Ehrlich and Anderson themselves, cannot be pegged to a single feeling.

Several of the tunes here are straight-up funky, with a groove both spare and in-the-pocket. “Hear You Say” is ragged funk, inspiring a crazy trombone solo of rhythmic blurts and sputters that leads into a muscular solo for Jones. Fun. And “Alligatory Rhumba” is just that -- a cool, dissonant riff that rides over a Latin groove. But then the whole thing shifts into driving swing, then into a pretty floating melody, then back to the syncopation. Anderson and Ehrlich trade solo statements back and forth, swatting the ball over the net like Borg and Connors, Sampras and Agassi. Double fun.

The longest track on Hear You Say is “Portrait of Leroy Jenkins”, a tune for the great free violinist who died in 2007. It is the most complex and compelling composition on the recording, and it does the most to suggest the serious possibilities of this quartet. It contains dramatic unaccompanied solo sections, compelling group interaction, and pensive zones of textural playing that take full advantage of each player’s strengths.

“Jenkins” suggests how great a band like this could be if it had the chance to rehearse, perform and record more frequently. Would it were so.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.