Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mark Egan - 2007 "As We Speak"

(2-CD Set) The new release from legendary contemporary jazz bassist, composer and producer Mark Egan is an all-star trio recording featuring guitarist John Abercrombie and former Pat Metheny Group bandmate and Elements co-founder Danny Gottlieb on drums. This tour de force super trio showcases Mark, who is considered by many to be one of the world's leading bassists, performing highly interactive original compositions. This incredible 2CD set contains that rare combination of 16 stellar compositions, first rate musicianship and virtuoso solos from one of the most influential contemporary jazz improvising musicians in history. "As We Speak" is an important bass recording of our time and an absolute must for any creative music listener.

A daring, highly interactive trio outing from one of the premier electric bassists of contemporary jazz, a high water mark in his recording career

The only reason this gets 5 stars is because there are not more to give.
This is a double CD, trio with Egan on fretless bass, John Abercrombie on guitar and Danny Gottlieb on drums.
The music is contemporary improvisational. No standards here. It is very much in the moment and it is a first class example of jazz musicianship at its best.
The tunes range from engaging, mid-tempo jazz grooves (do NOT read that as "smooth jazz") to highly interactive free form improv. Most of the compositions are Mark's.
The musicians are constantly interacting, trading ideas. (I've had the CD for months and every time I play it, it sounds new) Egan's fretless Pedulla sings. It is the hallmark of the recording but does not dominate it. In fact, blindfold you might mistake this for a John Abercrombie CD. John is clearly enjoying himself here and this could be some of his best trio work ever. The give and take is palpable. Gottlieb is subtle and creative. Not constantly pushing as he might in a quartet, but weaving in and out, supporting, driving, creating.
And to top it all off, the production and recording quality couldn't be better.
I just can't say enough about how good this recording and this music is. But because it is released on a small label, As We Speak will probably not garner any big awards. And that is a true shame because this is great music and a recording.

This is full of some subtly exciting music on these two discs, recorded over two days, and produced by Mark Egan. There's a lot of tight ensemble work here. Egan's five string bass, and Abercrombie's guitar mesh into a seamless blend. Egan's (at times) lead bass blends effortlessly with Danny Gottlieb's drumming, which is very tight and on the money. His sensitive touch and constantly changing drum patterns are truly one-third of this trio's sound. He plays busily but never cluttered or overpoweringly.

Listen to "Stiletto" on Disc Two for a perfect example of the group's playing chops. Both Egan and Gottlieb, along with Abercrombie, have created some intense, tightly woven music in the truest sense of the guitar/bass/drums format. There's no pyrotechnics here. Abercrombie keeps everything at a subtle boil, and when he steps out for a solo, he's still a part of the trio's overall sound. Egan's bass work is always inventive and organic, and Gottlieb's drumming keeps the various parts from flying apart.

The first track, "Spirals", is a good introduction to this set but, if anything, the music seems to get even better the further you listen. Fans of early Pat Metheny Group will occasionally detect the sound from the Metheny/Egan/Gottlieb period of that group. All the compositions were written by Egan, except one ("Alone Together"), with four other tunes written by the trio. The discs snap in, inside a four panel cardboard holder. There's track information, small photos of the group, and a short essay from both Egan and Gottlieb.

This is one of those releases that rewards the listener the more you hear this music. The interplay between the players is very intuitive, and almost seems to be a living, breathing thing. If you're interested in some complex yet unfussy jazz, from three veterans of the genre, check this out.

While the innovations of the late Jaco Pastorius continue to be felt to this day, he's not the only electric bassist to develop a recognizable fretless sound. Born the same year as Pastorius, Mark Egan has built his career around a denser tone and more eminently lyrical disposition. While Pastorius was capable of equal melodism but often resorted to greater bombast, Egan has remained distinctive and been a more consistent team player. As We Speak is a strong example—the bassist's most open-ended blowing session as a leader, and a sharp contrast to the more produced Freedom Town (Wavetone, 2001).

Egan teams up with drummer Danny Gottlieb and guitarist John Abercrombie for this intimate trio date. Gottlieb and Egan go back over thirty years, best-known as charter members of guitar icon Pat Metheny's first group and their ongoing collaboration, Elements. Abercrombie may be the new face here, but his ability to fit any context—chameleon-like but always distinctly himself—makes him the perfect choice.

While Abercrombie continues to record as a leader for ECM, it's been many years since either Egan or Gottlieb have recorded for the German label. Still, this double-disc set of largely Egan compositions, recorded over just two days, has a certain in-the-moment vibe that wouldn't be out of place on that label. Songs like the ethereal "Spirals, with Gottlieb's delicate cymbal work and Abercrombie's sixteen-note motif, constantly reharmonized by Egan's shifting harmonic center, seem custom-fit for ECM, opening up into a free middle section that recalls the chemistry of Abercrombie's work with the Gateway trio.

It's no surprise that Egan was listening to Gateway when he conceived this project. On the title tune he manages to double its lengthy theme with Abercrombie, while dropping down deep throughout to give the song its harmonic foundation. This kind of shifting roleplay makes the disc so compelling. But what's perhaps most remarkable is how deep the shared chemistry is for a first meeting. Egan and Gottlieb would be expected to have an almost telepathic connection, but Abercrombie sounds as if he's been playing with them for years.

While the overall ambience is atmospheric and light, and many of the tunes open up into freer space, Egan's not averse to writing changes. The bluesy yet lyrical "Mississippi Nights features Abercrombie and Egan trading off the theme, while Gottlieb's brushwork keeps a subtle groove throughout.

Four free improvisations on disc two manage to generate some added heat to this generally understated session. Egan's "Stiletto also motors along, with Gottlieb creating a lightly funky foundation, while the rubato "Plane to the Trane is driven by Egan's singing tone.

Egan has been a busy sideman with everyone from Gil Evans to Sting, but this effort is distinctive and special. One of those unexpected gems that crop up only occasionally, As We Speak suggests a personal direction that he should pursue far more often.

Atmospheric and serpentine, the two-disc As We Speak finds electric fretless bassist Mark Egan leading his trio through a series of enigmatic and propulsive original songs. An acolyte of the late great bassist Jaco Pastorious, Egan has a lithe touch on his instrument, and tracks such as the leadoff "Spirals" evince a hypnotic, fusion-esque aesthetic. Joining Egan here are the equally superb jazz giants guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Danny Gottlieb. These are three technical dynamos as well as artists sensitive to creative group interplay. Cuts such as "Dream Sequence" showcase this as Abercrombie and Egan both lay down harmonic lines against each other allowing Gottlieb to fill in the background with organic cymbal flourishes and flickering drum patterns. Cinematic and expansive, As We Speak has a real spark of intimacy and is a truly engaging work.

Disc 1
1    Spirals
2    As We Speak
3    Vanishing Point
4    Mississippi Nights
5    Alone Together
6    Your Sweet Way
7    Three-Way Mirror
8    Tone Poem for My Father

Disc 2
1    Shade and Shadows
2    Next Left
3    Dream Sequence
4    Depraw
5    Stiletto
6    Plane to the Trane
7    Time Out
8    Summer Sand


Mark Egan - Bass
John Abercrombie (guitar);
Danny Gottlieb (drums).


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yes I see, I'll fix it when I get home :-)

  3. Thanks. I hope you have/had a pleasant commute and so on.

  4. This is great stuff. Perhaps this is what Metheny was aiming for in his ECM years. Next I think I'll seek out Egan and Gottlieb's Illuminations. Any chance you have that available to post?

  5. What a great album - I'd love to hear what Egan and Gottlieb did as Elements. Any chance you have their Illuminations album?
    You're doing a great job of stretching and satisfying the ears of your readers.

  6. Is part4 missing?

  7. The Part4 is missing, it's possible to re-up.

    Thanks a lot