CD review

Jason Palmer – “The Concert, 12 Musings for Isabella”

Jason Palmer – The Concert, 12 Musings for Isabella
(Giant Step Arts. 2 CDs. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is, understandably but sadly, closed today. This happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of an art heist on 18 March 1990 which still stands, according to the museum’s website, as “the single largest property theft in the world”. In the early hours of the morning of that day, two thieves posing as police officers overpowered the guards and got away with thirteen major works, including a more or less priceless Vermeer. Because of a quirk in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s will, the museum has been obliged to display empty frames ever since. Trumpeter Jason Palmer has recorded a project about it “that is near and dear to me”. The two-disc set is released today, in commemoration of the anniversary.

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Palmer remembers moving from North Carolina to Boston in 1997 to attend New England Conservatory, and going to a concert at the museum.  The empty frames left an impression on him, and he found he was fascinated to explore the pictures that were no longer there. “After taking in the beauty of the works,” he says, “I decided to commission myself to write a piece inspired by each of those works.”

The ‘twelve musings’ are each inspired by one of the thirteen looted works, with the two sheets of pencil drawings by Degas, ‘Studies for an Artistic Soiree’, taken as one. For this recording, Palmer is among equals, in the company of stellar players: Mark Turner (tenor sax), Joel Ross (vibes), Edward Perez (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums). The album was recorded live, and the whole project has been supported by the Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts Foundation, and they had the good fortune to be invited by the InterContinental New York Barclay to make the recording in the luxurious Harold S. Vanderbilt Penthouse of the hotel, which opened in 1926.

The twelve compositions add up to a programme which is not much short of two and a half hours, with just one of the tracks coming in under eight minutes; and there are only unobtrusive reminders that it is a live recording with occasional ripples of applause.

Jason Palmer has provided detailed and thoughtful notes for every track. The (musical) writing can often be dense, intricate, challenging. I would say that the tracks which yield up their secrets most readily are tunes like Cortege aux Environs, remembering a Degas drawing, and in which Palmer and his cohort gently and spaciously conjure up the light texture of Degas’ pencil and sepia wash on paper.

Palmer has intriguingly described his composition Program for an Artistic Soiree (Degas) as “danceable and sleuthy”. I love the confidence and the angularity of Palmer’s and Turner’s opening salvoes, as a duet, on this track. There is also a strong bass solo with a highly memorable energy and fluency.

Palmer and Turner are ideal foils for each other and combine with infallible ensemble playing and flawless tuning. Joel Ross, on the vibes as the harmony instrument, brings a wonderful lightness to the texture. In his solo exploits, he has an impressive way of circling around a particular fixed idea, as if he is putting a section of a picture under a microscope.

This is a totally different world from the simpler, heart-on-sleeve candour and the easier approachability of Jason Palmer’s very recent and beautiful tribute to Anita Baker issued just a few months ago, entitled Sweet Love.

12 Musings for Isabella is a major piece of work and I certainly have the feeling I will want to go back (perhaps in less stressful times) to dig deeper and to explore more.

Categories: CD review

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  1. pogo56 – Jason Palmer Trumpeter Jason Palmer is slowly becoming one of the most in demand jazz musicians of his generation. He has shared the stage with icons such as Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith (the organist), Wynton Marsalis, Greg Osby (quintet member 2004-2006), Kurt Rosenwinkel (first trumpeter to ever be hired by this highly acclaimed guitarist), Ravi Coltrane, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Clarence Penn, Common (hip-hop icon), Roy Hargrove, Billy Pierce, etc. Jason took 1st Place in the 2009 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. The June 2007 issue of Downbeat Magazine cited Jason as one of the “Top 25 trumpeters of the Future”. His debut recording entitled “Songbook” (Ayva Musica) features nine original compositions and includes guest saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Greg Osby. The record garnered rave reviews upon its’ release and appeared on several “Best of 2008” lists including All Music Guide’s list for best jazz album. Jason was a member of Greg Osby’s quintet from 2004-2006 which performed at major jazz festivals in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, France, Malta, Netherlands, as well as two stints at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Jason is currently a member of Grace Kelly’s Quintet and Matana Robert’s Mississippi Moonchile, performing at major jazz festivals in Sicily, Germany, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Bratislava, Canada, as well as the Freihofer Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, clubs in NYC such as the Knitting Factory, Dizzy’s, Rose Hall at Lincoln Center, Blue Note, Jazz Bakery (L.A.), Sculler’s Jazz Club and Regattabar (MA), and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday (FL). In September of 2009 Jason completed a 4-week 24-date extensive tour of the UK in support of UK bassist Michael Janisch’s debut album entitled Purpose Built, which also features Jason Palmer’s trumpet work. Jason’s quintet has been serving as the house band at Boston’s historical Wally’s Jazz Café for the past nine years. He has also presented his band at the Tanglewood Jazz Fest, the Jazz Standard and the Jazz Gallery in NYC, the Studio in Hartford Ct, as well as other venues throughout New England. In 2007, Jason Palmer was commissioned by the Festival of New Trumpet Music in NYC to premier a new work for his quintet. In addition to maintaining a heavy performing schedule, Jason Palmer continues to maintain a busy schedule as an educator/actor/board member at JazzBoston. At a time when many music educators in the Boston area are commuting from New York City, Jason commuted from Boston to New York City to serve on the faculty at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in the fall of 2008. Jason has taught trumpet and directed ensembles in the Preparatory Division and the School for Continuing Education at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for the past ten years and is teaching at the Mission Hill School for the past five years. He is also a faculty member at the Aquinas College Jazz Camp (Grand Rapids, MI, 2004-present) and has given masterclasses in Portugal, the UK, and Mexico. Jason was the leading actor in director Damien Chazelle’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. The movie received great reviews after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. Since then the film is screening at film festivals in Greece, Bratislava, Martha’s Vineyard (MA), Houston (TX), Denver (CO), Seattle (WA), Los Angeles (CA), Calgary (Canada), Minneapolis (MN), Mill Valley (CA).
    pogo56 says:

    Dear Sebastian,

    Thanks you so much for your generous review of my new project! I really appreciate your work and wishing you all the best moving forward. Also kudos to you for alerting me, (via Ann) about the liner notes derangement! I fixed it!

    Take care,

    Jason Palmer

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