Saxophonist Bill McHenry managed to score two extended gigs at the Village Vanguard with his new quartet between November 2011 and March 2012. That’s pretty good for a guy who is too young to be considered a hard legend. Then again, McHenry has been active in music since the ’80s and has spent the last twenty years of his life working in New York City. In addition to lending a hand on albums by Guillermo Klein and Norah Jones, McHenry has built a solid discography of his own including albums with the late great Paul Motian. He has now settled into a quartet with pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Andrew Cyrille, a combination that makes great ease out of the language of technically demanding jazz carved out by earlier artists.
Just like his friend and contemporary J.D. Allen, McHenry is more economical in his playing than your average post-bop saxophonist. When you listen to the Village Vanguard sets captured on La Peur Du Vide, you find your attention being pulled more to Evans or Cyrille than to the main attraction. In the case of Andrew Cyrille, the flash factor of his solos outdoes his boss easily on La Peur Du Vide. You might even go so far as to say that they are the climaxes within, giving electric shots to McHenry’s arm. Evans is no vanilla vamper either, sending his solos tearing through the chart with wide and rapid range. All the while, McHenry just sort of stands back to let it all happen. He’s more of a band enabler than a band leader, using his instrument as a compliment to the piano at most.
All six songs on La Peur Du Vide were written just for the Village Vanguard occasion. Considering the second word in the legendary club’s name, these tunes are a little on the conservative side. Conversely, this seems to fit McHenry’s approach to the performance of his own music. You’ve got the easy melody in “Today”, the appealingly syncopated rhythm in “Siglo XX”, and the modern swing in “In Sight”. The title track, which loosely translates to “fear of the void”, doesn’t seem to be too scared of empty space. The weirder side of post-bop gets a nod on “Trillard”. After stating an odd theme, it goes through a most unusual solo pattern where Eric Revis bows around before letting Evans take over with a kinder, more melodic treatment. This doesn’t prepare you for Andrew Cyrille’s solo which lasts for nearly six minutes. Stranger still, his solo ends with just forty seconds left in the whole album. They almost let him have the last word there … almost.
La Peur Du Vide doesn’t fear the void, nor does it plunge headlong into it. It’s a safe dance around the perimeter, a small document in Bill McHenry’s slowly transitioning career. Jazz tends to be more vibrant in a live setting and this particular batch of songs benefit from the Vanguard atmosphere.