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Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet Rhyhm *

Track List

>Mary's Song
>What's New
>Lady of the Lake
>Free Fall

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"In 1979, pianist Richard Sussman's recording Free Fall was released on Inner City to some acclaim. Now, over three decades later, Sussman brings back his band mates from the seventies to perform on Live at Sweet William. Chief among them is trumpeter Tom Harrell, who gives further evidence that he is a genius of improvisation.

Besides Harrell, Jerry Bergonzi contributes much with his powerful John Coltrane-influenced tenor saxophone. All are empowered by the estimable work of bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Jeff Williams, with Sussman's significant contributions as soloist, composer and arranger a given.

Leading this quintet in the late seventies, following the Free Fall, the group broke up, with Sussman going to Europe, where he spent became a sideman in various pop and rock groups, activity interspersed with occasional jazz gigs and teaching at the Manhattan School of Music upon his return home. In 2003, he was able to reunite the quintet, and it played and recorded at Sweet Rhythm in New York City, but the tapes went unreleased for seven years.

Over the last three decades, Harrell and Bergonzi have made names for themselves with extensive recordings, with Richmond and Williams also leading successful careers. The playlist here spotlights Sussman's sparkling originals - several from the '79 recording - intermixed with two standards which show off the horn players.

With Sussman's dazzling piano sets the pace at the beginning of "Waiting," the opener gives first exposure to Harrell's rapid-fire phrasing and Bergonzi's muscular tenor, while Tadd Dameron's lovely "Soultrane" showcases Bergonzi, who movingly evokes Coltrane's "sheets of sound" style from the saxophone icon's 1958 Atlantic recording of the same name, also humorously quoting Trane's version of "Inch Worm."

"Tiahuanaco" demonstrates Harrell and Bergonzi's intuitive interplay; the trumpeter picking up a phrase from Bergonzi, and delightfully expanding upon it - all under the urging of of Sussman's hard-driving piano and Williams' blistering drums. Harrell also brightly shines on Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke's timeless "What's New," his rendering a lesson in creative thinking. Harrell, with the rhythm section cooking behind him, brings to mind the sublime lyricism of mid-1950s Miles Davis, on classic albums like Miles Davis and the Jazz Giants (Prestige 1954).

Sussman's compositional talent is on display in the complex "Lady of the Lake." Written in concerto form, with several movements, it begins with a slow stately ensemble section. Then Sussman's piano opens a light, airy interlude, followed by a brisk, energetic segment from Bergonzi.

The closing "Free Fall" is free jazz within the constraints of Sussman's writing, which assuredly holds it together. Everyone shows off their improv chops on this riveting tune; anarchic, but never out of control. Williams' snare drum intro rallies the group, then yielding to Harrell's harried call to arms as everyone responds with sound and fury. Ultimately Sussman enters, effectively ending this musical skirmish with a strong statement, bringing to order its sublime agitation." -AllAboutJazz

"Life has few certainties, but the constant and ever-moving nature of time is one of them. Events, both miniscule and monumental, pass by and usually leave nothing more than a memory or, in the case of music, a record. Such was the case with pianist Richard Sussman's Free Fall (Inner City Records, 1978). Joined by some burgeoning young talent in 1978, Sussman's album became an underground classic and that seemed to be the end of it. All the players involved in the recording moved on and developed into well-respected jazz veterans, with Sussman moving into touring bands, composing and teaching.

As the years went by, the music began resonating with a lot of people, Sussman included, and the pianist eventually bought the rights to his recording. After some calendar juggling, he was able to nail down everybody from the original project, with the exception of saxophonistLarry Schneider, and they celebrated the album's twenty-fifth anniversary with two nights at New York's Sweet Rhythm. Now, seven years later, this music has made its way to the marketplace as Live At Sweet Rhythm, and the music was well worth the wait.

A few songs from the original album, a couple of new tunes and a pair of standards make up the program, and Sussman generously shares the spotlight with everybody involved. The standards belong to the horn players, with trumpeter Tom Harrell at the center of "What's New," and saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi delivering a stellar take, capped off with a terrific cadenza, on "Soultrane." "Mary's Song," one of the two newer Sussman originals, has an uplifting and sunny theme that's instantly appealing, with drummer Jeff Williams and bassist Mike Richmond providing some slick supporting grooves.

What's so striking about this rhythm section is its ability to bring a certain amount of intensity to the music without the high volume levels that often, needlessly, go with it. "Waiting" and "Tiahuanaco" are prime examples of this quality, and both contain plenty of solo space. The album's closing tracks are its most adventurous: "Lady Of The Lake" begins with a rubato piano introduction - full of mystery, intrigue and impressionistic flourishes - before things finally settle in; "Free Fall" is almost episodic in nature, and offers a lot to like. Williams' loose drum soloing, Harrell's following explorations, Bergonzi's playing over uncertain footing, and Sussman's flurry of notes all add to the magic. Here's hoping three more decades don't have to pass for these musicians to reconvene." -AllAboutJazz

Album Reviews:

JazzTimes (p.60) - "Sussman holds his own. His best solo is his hovering, swirling construct on 'Lady of the Lake."

Album Notes

Personnel: Jerry Bergonzi (tenor saxophone); Tom Harrell (trumpet); Richard Sussman (piano); Jeff Williams (drums).

Audio Mixer: Paul Wickliffe.

Liner Note Author: Neil Tesser.

Recording information: Sweet Rhythm, New York, NY (06/20/2003-06/21/2003).

Photographers: Helen Walker; Julia Lucas.

Arranger: Richard Sussman.

Pianist Richard Sussman led a quintet in the late 1970s and made one record (Free Fall) for Inner City, though after going to Europe for a time, he was unable to land another record deal as a leader. After years of working in a supporting role by touring with various pop and rock acts, along with the occasional jazz gig and teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, Sussman was able to reunite his quintet for some dates in 2003, when this CD was recorded at Sweet Rhythm in New York City. In the decades that passed, both trumpeter Tom Harrell and tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi have made names for themselves with their writing and extensive recordings, while bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Jeff Williams have been in demand as well.

For those not familiar with Sussman's earlier quintet recording, his potent post-bop compositions provide potent ammunition for the group, which doesn't sound like it is playing a brief reunion after a quarter-century layoff. Sussman's powerful post-bop vehicle is similar in flavor to Hal Galper's late-'70s quintet pieces, though the pianist's approach to his instrument is more relaxed and less turbulent. Bergonzi is featured in Sussman's lush arrangement of Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane," with the saxophonist evoking the spirit of John Coltrane without resorting to mere mimicry. Harrell's showcase is a breezy setting of Bob Haggart's timeless ballad "What's New," which is full of humorous moments throughout his solo. But it is "Free Fall," the extended Sussman work which closes this release, which proves to be the most captivating. The brief introduction sets up a solo by Williams, leading to free jazz sections showcasing Harrell and Bergonzi before the leader takes things further out then returns to a driving post-bop setting to wrap the performance with an explosive finish. Hopefully, Richard Sussman won't have to wait another 25 years to land his next record deal. ~ Ken Dryden


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