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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Elliott Caine: Blues from Mars

Elliott Caine
Blues from Mars

The great West Coast alto saxophonist Bud Shank spoke the word “cool” with real scorn, in a sense opposed to hot and supposedly descriptive rather than generally laudatory. “Cool” was supposed to be what West Coast Jazz was. Shank detested the marketing nonsense, and I can hardly suppose Elliott Caine would wear the suggestion that he comply with the old false stereotype, much less put up with an adjective implying excessive restraint being misapplied to his music (not that there aren’t overpaid publicists capable of things even crasser!).

I see from one Google link that Michael Rose has been called the outstanding soloist on the set, but he’s on only one title, perhaps left over from a session otherwise issued on a previous Caine CD — and the poor fellow died not long after it was recorded. The set’s dedicated to his memory, and to music-making of the standard to be heard on that first track. The photo of Maestro Caine with the liner notes doesn’t imply a lack of confidence, and opening with that cracker, distinguished by Justo Almario’s tenor as well as by the work of the lamented Mr. Rose, no more suggests doubts. There’s the same piano-bass-drums trio of John Rangel, Bill Markus and Kenny Elliott, but Carl Randall has to follow a less meditative tenorist and a baritonist of substance — and all without a conga player on “El Nueva Dia”. He can.

There’s more intensity and Antoine Cayito Dearborn on “Peace and Love”, which doesn’t so anything so banal as be soothing; “Passion” and “Commitment” are terms characterising this melodious, driving stylistic relative of the track which follows and of a lot of classic Horace Silver.

Then suddenly there’s this surpassingly beautiful “After Thought”; Caine’s the sole horn, and John Rangel inspired in his piano solo by the intervention of D.J. Bonebrake in a vibes solo which purls into the ethereal. He’s heard again on the fast medium stomper “Mambolishus”, where his individual voice pays off against the electric bass Bill Markus plays on a couple of the set’s Hispanically titled numbers. Inocente Alvarez is on conga and drummer Elliott gets to follow him and conclude the celebration of rhythms. The title Latin Jazz is hardly to be applied, since the addition of Conga (Munyungo Jackson was in the band with Rose and comes back for a title with the very satisfying tenor of Randall) is just an opening out of something within this music.

The same can be said of the title track, which another reviewer has suggested is what used to be called “far out”. It might be by standards of a much earlier time, but the unobtrusive electronic sounds are fun, and nothing to do with music attempted on synthesizers. Veterans might remember hearing something similar if rather more fitful on ancient AM radio receivers. Bonebreak’s ethereal vibes allow a handy extraterrestrial atmosphere at the beginning and as a higher level means of solving the problem of following Caine’s drive. Markus’s bowed bass is a little of the same, before the Martians come in at the end to express apt wonder at the music.

I will conclude first by referring to Caine’s utterly masterly ballad playing on “I Thought About You”, for a long time simply in duo with the bassist, who holds things moving together as the pianist enters to solo with the drummer in gentle attendance. Caine comes in for the final third of the performance, the bassist rock-like as the pianist contributes to a heart-warming polyphony. Second, I am led to believe that if I’d spent much time in Los Angeles I might well have been familiar already with these musicians’ names. I hope so. Composer of the first nine titles, a duly various selection, Elliott Caine’s a very interesting, unusually exciting musician.

RATING 9 / 10