Wayne Escoffery: Times Change

Maurice Bottomley

Wayne Escoffery

Times Change

Label: Nagel Heyer
US Release Date: 2001-09-27

In the awkward divide that has built up between the Burns-Crouch-Marsalis camp and the anti-Burnsites in the past year, any young artist who shows anything approaching reverence for the past is immediately pigeon-holed as a Young Fogy and his record judged in terms of its closeness to the Marsalis school of technically brilliant but emotionally constipated music. This is, of course, as unfair to Marsalis as it is to the budding performer. But it cannot be denied that there is a tendency towards Academicism surrounding the Lincoln Center posse, with its strict, almost Leavisite, Canon and its suspicion of those who do not share the Armstrong to Wynton theory of jazz history.

There is every likelihood that Wayne Escoffery's debut set will be so labeled. It has the characteristic hallmarks. Escoffery is the sax-man in Eric Reed's band. Reed is closely linked to Marsalis. Also humility, in the form of respect to former saxophone greats, is everywhere, marking each track and highlighted in Escoffery's own liner notes. To cap it all, he has a scholastic command of the instrument that isn't quite matched by an individuated sound.

Yet Times Change is a fine example of mainstream blowing. Nothing to scream about from the roof tops, and nothing jazz buffs won't have in various forms already, it is even so a solid collection somewhere in the Jackie McLean/ Sonny Stitt late bop style.It also has the prettiest ballad you will hear this year -- a stunning version of the ancient "That's All". The band maybe relatively nondescript but Escoffery comes out with flying colours. There is a sense of a finals project about the album -- each player seems overly keen to prove what a diligent student he has been -- but there is life, and indeed love, in the leader's way with a melody. Naturally, the level of craftsmanship is as high as you would expect, but it is not at all a dry affair, thanks largely to this song-based sensibility. He may get assigned to the new classicism but I suspect he is a romantic at heart.

I must confess that I was only drawn to the record because there was a fantastic and sinfully ignored soul outfit from London a few years back called The Escofferys. Wayne maybe related, as he moved to New York from London as a a child. He is still young yet modest as he is about his relationship to the tradition, he is no novice. He has studied with a frightening array of major figures and has worked with a number of formidable outfits in the past few years, including Ron Carter's group and the Mingus Big Band.

The opening track is excellent. "Come Back Lucky", a tribute to Lucky Thompson, sounds like an out-take from McLean's Bluesnik classic. That is a compliment, by the way, Bluesnik being one of the best albums ever. Escoffery was tutored by McLean -- it shows but that is no bad thing. In fact, each number bears the mark of some former great, though not always the one the liner notes cite. For instance, Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" -- a bittersweet tune for which our man has a particular penchant, has the flavour of some of Joe Henderson's less abstract work. Sometimes things get a bit too close to their source of inspiration as in his imitative reading of "After You've Gone". This was a Sonny Stitt warm-up piece and sounds merely re-heated here. The command of "sheet of sound" scales is impressive though. On the other hand Yusef Lateef's "Water Pistol" has its essential tunefulness brought out but shows little of it's composers depth and is generally second-rate.

His own compositions, three in all, are, apart from the opener, adequate but do not stay in the mind long. They are a little bookish - as if written for an assignment -- clever but not quite convincing. The song to his sister "Dawn" is marginally preferable to "Times Change", largely because the former has a tenderness to it that appeals. The one remaining track is Jobim's "Triste" which isn't quite Latin enough for me but is redeemed by some commanding and free-flowing solo work.

Tenor and soprano sax are, the now familiar, choice of instruments. The tenor suits him better but I think I would say that about any player. One soprano piece a set is sufficient. John Coltrane has a lot to answer for in reviving an instrument whose initial sound is charming but whose scope is very narrow. The band (piano, bass, drums) is unobtrusive and accomplished but no different to any you might hear at your local jazz club.

For a first offering this is an accomplished and enjoyable set. Adventurous it is not. There is plenty of time. We will hear much more of this agreeable-sounding young man in the near future. In more high-powered company, or maybe on a complete set of ballads, he will show his true worth. Already he has proved himself capable of giving great pleasure to anybody who simply enjoys a good tune played well. Once the recent teacup-storming over what is and what isn't authentic jazz has died down, it will be the quality of musicianship that is remembered. Escoffery makes that grade easily and has also made a bright start to what is likely to be a fruitful career.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.