Patrick Cornelius – Infinite Blue
(Whirlwind Records. WR4637. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
NYC alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius’ Infinite Blue is like a book of short stories, or paintings where dreaminess is filtered though sharp colours. Each track has a short written introduction in the liner notes – enough to arouse your interest, but not enough to explain the piece away. It feels right to read the book straight through.
Regent Street opens. (‘Nothing makes the man quite like a sharp pair of shoes.’) It’s sassy and thoughtful: fast walking, boppy, occasionally stopping to watch the world go by. The theme’s made up of almost abstract, beautifully-harmonised phrases, with alto, trombone and trumpet. Nick Vayenas’ trombone solo is rich-toned and roguish.
The title track Infinite Blue (‘A man, a plane, a pencil and a window seat.’) was conceived on a plane and named after his 3-year-old daughter’s crayon colour. It’s shaped like a Kenny Wheeler composition, spacious and moving, the accessible melody skating on the more complex modal harmonies. One of Cornelius’ aims in composition is to ‘eliminate the superfluous’, and this solo hasn’t a wasted note, either. It’s a little like Charles Lloyd in tone. He waits for the just the right note, with a childlike openness and engaging huskiness.
Waiting (‘She sits alone, staring out the window, waiting for him.’) begins with Michael Janisch’s brooding, dramatic bass solo (Intro to Waiting). I find myself looking out for Waiting each time I listen to the album. The two-note phrases of the theme fan out into harmony with exquisite piano fills from Frank Kimbrough. His piano solo is perfectly in the mood, a little Herbie Hancock-ish, very beautiful. There’s plenty of space for Jeff Ballard’s creative drumming- it recalls Jack DeJohnette’s work on the 90s Scofield/Lovano albums, keeping the subtle energy going behind the slow feel.
The fast bop-swing Puzzler (‘Four, then Four again, then Three, Rinse and Repeat.’) bursts into Mike Rodriguez’ trumpet solo, with its Woody Shaw-ish timbre and fierceness (elsewhere his deep breathy tones can sound flugel-like). There are some thrilling bars as the trumpet and sax solos fold into each other, Cornelius’ liquid tone and modern harmonies perhaps influenced by mentor Dick Oatts.
Unfinished Business (‘A boy sets off on a new adventure in a strange land. A man returns, tired and weary, but resolved, determined and at peace.’) has a mellow expansive feel, like a Tom Harrell tune. It has a nicely counterpointed hook line, the subtlety of the melody almost undermined by the modal harmonies. The waltz In the Quiet Moments slows things down further. (‘The thoughts, desires, hopes and worries pass by overhead like birds in the distance’.) It’s minor and melancholy, stirring up emotion with a certain detachment, as Cornelius plays the tune with a Dexter Gordon-like breathy vibrato. Cornelius likes improvisation to be ‘to be an aid to the tune’, and the solos sound as if they have the tune in mind.
My Green Tara (a Buddhist goddess-‘Compels me to create, think and achieve’.) was commissioned by the Rubin Museum of Art and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, NYC. It has a pulsing swing (courtesy of Janisch) and a Shorter/Hancock vibe, with its unpredictable yet melodic intervals. Projection is written and played by pianist John Chin – the album’s only piece not by Cornelius. It has a strong Latin piano groove behind the languid melody, wonderfully delicate cymbal work from Ballard, and an uplifting feeling.
The album takes you through many moods, from melancholy to sparky, with finely-crafted writing and superb musicianship. The more you listen, the more stories it has to tell you.