Olie Brice Quintet – Day After Day
(Babel BDV17148. CD review by Jon Turney)
It’s hard to explain how music can evoke the same feelings in different people, but it’s also one of life’s more wonderful truths. Musing on adjectives to convey something about this set of free but lyrical pieces, I toy with saying something about melancholy abandon. Then, referring back to leader Olie Brice’s own words from a year ago, I find he is drawn to “emotional, mysterious music with an intense vocal quality and sense of complete commitment and abandonment, droning, melancholy yet also joyous, and a collective, communal process of generating melody and harmony”. A few more words, but I think we’re talking about the same thing.
Bassist Brice was describing influences – including old blues, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, Leo Smith, the liturgical music he once sang in synagogues – and the music he hoped to make with this quintet on the road. This CD, recorded just after that tour, suggests they succeeded.
There’s a change in the front line since his first quintet recording, 2013’s Immune to Clockwork with George Crowley on tenor sax and Mike Fletcher on alto coming in for Mark Hanslip and Waclaw Zimpel. Alex Bonney remains essential to the group sound, though switching from cornet to trumpet, and master drummer Jeff Williams contributes that unbeatable sensation of always being loosely propulsive even when he’s apparently heedless of timekeeping.
It’s a post-Ornette quality, and that’s where one can locate most of the music, as Brice indicates. (He’s also deeply influenced here, he says, by the novels of Nathaniel Mackay, about whom I know nothing). There are four original pieces, which dig deep into multi-vocal improvisation from the horns as well as offering solo-plus-rhythm contributions from all three – Bonney spontaneously melodic at will, Fletcher fluid and inventive, Crowley thoughtfully fierce. If You Were the Only Girl in the World – a song Brice learnt from his grandmother but was inspired to perform by a recording of Sonny Rollins and one of his bass heroes, Henry Grimes – rounds out the set.
There are hints of other great bassists, too – William Parker comes to mind at times. But as Brice’s inspirations indicate, the music is about building feeling through interaction more than individual brilliance. There’s nothing formulaic here, just an open, responsive approach that speaks to many different strands of improvising tradition, old and new, and makes them personal. The closer and title track, a simple, folkish theme evoking ancient echoes, sees the three horns bring many of these threads together, weaving them into a fresh, vividly coloured fabric. It’s a great realisation of Brice’s prospectus, rewarding for players and listeners alike.