|Ted Nash Qunitet live at Dizzy's Coca Cola Plastic Sax Records|
With this pedigree, it is no wonder that our now modern-day Ted, a seasoned fifty-eight year old professional musician, should follow in these imposing footsteps. Not only has Nash made his own mark as a first call multi-reed artist - for the last nineteen years he has been a key member of Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra- He has established himself as a top rate composer and arranger. In 2010 Nash's Portraits in Seven Shades, a creative work of seven movements, each depicting the modern painters Chagall, Dali, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Pollock and Van Gogh, was nominated for a Grammy. In 2017 his ambitious Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom won two Grammy awards, one for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album and one for "Spoken At Midnight" for Best Instrumental Composition.
Nash is the consummate musical explorer, he has never let his love for big band music get in the way of his playing creative improvised music in a myriad of settings. He has been an integral part of projects like his work with bassist Ben Allison on The Herbie Nichols Project or the trio with Allison and guitarist Steve Cardenas that celebrates the music of Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre on Quiet Revolution. Not to be pigeonholed as a pure traditionalist he made his own free jazz explorations of the music of Ornette Coleman on his Quartet album The Creep.
With such an unquenchable thirst for ever expanding his musical horizons its nice to hear Nash play “live” on his latest album Ted Nash Quintet live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The line up is superb with trailblazers like Warren Wolf on vibes, Gary Versace on piano, Matt Wilson on drums and the glue that holds it all together the veteran bassist Rufus Reid.
Nash and company offers up seven delightful compositions two of which, the opener “Organized Crime” and the next to last song “Sisters” are Nash originals. The remaining fare is a thoughtful assembly of songs by Chick Corea, Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk, Johnny Mandel and Henry Mancini.
The pace quickens right from the opening lines of Nash’s “Organized Crime.” Reid’s bulbous bass notes accentuating the rhythm under Wilson’s polyphony of bombs and crashes. Wolf offers a distinctive solo before Nash plays a searing, Coleman-esque alto solo. Wilson’s playful antics are fill the air with electricity. The energy is palpable.
The band moves on to Corea’s masterpiece “Windows,” this time with Nash on flute reminiscent of the work on this by the great Hubert Laws. Wolf’s vibes and Versace’s piano lend an airy feel to this as Reid’s steady hand is probing with authority. Nash has wonderful intonation on the instrument. Versace, a pianist who deserves greater recognition, dances with superb sensitivity along with Reid in a gorgeous display of intuitive grace that is a highlight of the album.
Herbie Nichols, a cult figure on the piano known for his unique style, composed the next tune “Spinning Song.” Nash on alto and Wolf on vibes play the main theme in step. As the song changes to a slow swing Wolf again shows why he is a master of invention. The song has interesting breaks which the group navigates with effortless polish. Nash’s alto tone is rich and luscious as he trades notes with a lone Reid holding the line. Nash finds a delicate balance between a classic and modern tone. His playing brings you to the precipice at times but you never feel like you re in danger of falling off.
Nash takes to the microphone to explain how the next piece, Johnny Mandel’s beautiful ballad “Emily” is a dedication to his transgender daughter once Emily now Elias. This is a special moment for Nash, a man publicly acknowledging his unconditional love for his child. Played gorgeously by Gary Versace in duo with Nash’s transcendent clarinet, this one is special. Nash and Versace make beautiful music together and from Nash’s reaction that is caught on mic, Versace surprises him at times with his spontaneous and nuanced inventiveness.
I recently praised a duo album by Fred Hersch and Anat Cohen using the same isntrumentation where I thought the two showed remarkable afinity for each other. Nash and Versace reach that same unfathomable simpatico here and it is just a treat to behold. You can tell by the complete and utter silence that the two command the room. The audience is spell bound. Bravo gentlemen!
Another Nash original, "Sisters," finds the saxophonist returning to his alto with relish and gusto on this quick paced swinger. Reid's bass line is in double time and flawless. Nash, Wolf and Versace all take turns burning down the house with their fleet, adreniline-paced inventions.
The Nash-Mancini connection is inescapable and so it was appropriate to end the set with Mancini's playful "Baby Elephant's Walk." Nash plays the piccolo, an instrument rarely heard in jazz. Like the legendary Pied Piper, Nash leads the group on this rousing blues with joyful abandon, ending the show and the album on the perfect high note.
Live albums can at times be spoty or unisnpired, but Ted Nash Quintet live at Dizzy's Coca Cola is one of those rare recordings that has captiured a special moment in time, a moment when all things were working at the highest level and the only regret is that you weren't there to witness this for yourself.