By John Ephland | Published June 2016
The case for City Of Poets revolves around a French/American jazz exchange program (involving the French-American Cultural Exchange and Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation), and is also based around Olivier Messiaen’s seven modes of limited transposition, as well as American author Dan Simmons’ science-fiction series Hyperion Cantos.
American trumpeter Jason Palmer and French pianist/composer Cédric Hanriot have created an “improvisational concept” that takes mainstream jazz styles for quintet and links them to literary and artistic archetypes, including the poet, the detective and the soldier. The group’s other members—tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Clarence Penn—help usher forth their colleagues’ ambitious program in this live recording at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club.
The music is very listenable, but doesn’t necessarily point beyond itself. Everyone is fully present and in good form, the mood is generally upbeat and the live recording gives a real sense of presence. Opener “The Priest’s Tale (Mode II)” begins with Penn’s tart stick drumming and a touch of funk. The lively waltz is a good platform to introduce the players, especially McCaslin. “The Poet’s Tale (Mode V)” features Palmer’s parched, alternatively fiery and sweetly sung trumpet and McCaslin’s enjoyable low-key runs. The rhythm section playfully works around the duo, goosing the 5/4 vibe with aplomb.
“The Scholar’s Tale (Mode III)” gives a dreamier, more permeable side to this band, Hanriot’s gentle piano musings mingling with Janisch’s thematic basslines and Palmer’s blazing trumpet work.
Throughout, City Of Poets beckons the listener to activate their imagination, challenging them to combine multiple art forms, see characters come alive and invent their own informed storyline.
City Of Poets: The Priest’s Tale (Mode II); The Soldier’s Tale (Mode IV); The Poet’s Tale (Mode V); The Scholar’s Tale (Mode III); The Detective’s Tale (Mode VII); The Shrike (Mode I); The Consul’s Tale (Mode VI).
Personnel: Jason Palmer, trumpet; Cedric Hanriot, piano; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Michael Janisch, double-bass; Clarence Penn, drums.