Album reviews

Mark Turner – ‘Return from the Stars’

Mark Turner – Return from the Stars
(ECM Records, ECM 2684. Review by Graham Spry)

The great California-born tenor saxophonist Mark Turner once again gives free rein to his passion for the deeper themes of Science Fiction, as he did on Lathe of Heaven, his last quartet album on ECM Records and one of the best album releases of 2014.

The title of Lathe of Heaven was taken from one of Ursula K Le Guin’s novels; Return from the Stars comes from the 1961 book by Polish writer Stanisław Lem.

The similarity of these two recordings goes beyond just the science fiction references. His latest record continues to explore the unique musical texture of the earlier album. After eight years, Return from the Stars is – most resoundingly – a worthy successor to Lathe of Heaven.

The sound of Turner’s quartet music has much to do with the absence of a chordal instrument such as a piano or guitar. Although the musicians on this recording are every bit as tight-knit as on that of its predecessor, the only musician other than Turner to appear on both sessions is Joe Martin on double bass. The other two are Jonathan Pinson on drums and Jason Palmer on trumpet. Palmer and Turner have worked together many times before, including projects led by Palmer – notably the extended work 12 Musings for Isabella (REVIEWED HERE) – which may explain why the two horn players have an almost telepathic accord of intent and delivery. There is a compelling and engaging sound on the many occasions when the two play together in harmony.

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


The album opens with the haunting title track, Return from the Stars, which immediately sets the tone for the whole album and may well be its outstanding track, just as Lathe of Heaven was for its predecessor. Turner has composed all the tracks and their consistent feel does sometimes evoke a rather unsettling landscape. The overall ambience resonates with the source novel’s subject matter of the difficulties confronted by a returning astronaut when he has to adjust to a world different from the one he left behind, even though by most objective measures it’s a better place. That might explain the title of It’s Not Alright With Me and also why Waste Land is possibly the album’s most tranquil tune. Nevertheless, the record isn’t a soundtrack to a novel and the tunes are not literal representations of their titles.

Turner is probably at his best in small ensembles that rely on an empathetic musical relationship, such as his collaborations with Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard and Ethan Iverson who are musicians who thrive in the context of Turner’s expansive imagination and his feel for natural harmony. This is an excellent album that will satisfy listeners already appreciative of Turner’s music and should draw many others towards his distinctive musical vision.

LINK: Return from the Stars on ECM Records

Leave a Reply