CD REVIEW: Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven

Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven
(ECM 378 0663. Cd Review by Jonathan Carvell)

“To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.” So goes the beautiful quote at the heart of Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel which inspires acclaimed saxophonist Mark Turner’s first release as leader on ECM.

The quote evokes the rich web of allusion and mystery which permeates this record, full of compositions crafted with great care and acute sonic sensitivity. With Avishai Cohen on trumpet matching him step for step, Turner gracefully spins out long lyrical phrases of finely wrought counterpoint, which lie in suspended animation above Marcus Gilmore’s fluid drumming and Joe Martin’s cool, understated bass. In this quartet without a chordal instrument there is plenty of space for Turner and Cohen’s delicate polyphony, and as the lines unfold, each consonance and dissonance feels perfectly judged. Nothing is overwrought: as Turner himself says, “I like when things are defined by negative space. It creates mystery when things are left unsaid”.

Turner and Cohen complement each other wonderfully, both with tight control and shape of their solos, both with distinct voices. Cohen’s solo on Sonnet for Stevie is a particular highlight, and it is in this track that the album is most direct. A study in the blues inspired by Stevie Wonder’s Blame it on the Sun, which Turner heard often throughout his childhood, this track in particular carries real emotional weight and is a poignant and beautiful outlet for the tension built through the first four tracks of the album. A sparse coda follows in Brother Sister 2, and the evocative picture Turner creates over the course of the album recedes out of focus, almost before we knew it was there. Lathe of Heaven is a master-class in melody and control; it develops carefully and slowly, and nothing is wasted – there is no bluster. This is a virtuosic, personal and moving record, which reveals deeper levels of meaning with each listen.

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