No Coastingan Iron-Lipped Trumpeter Bridges East and West
In the liner notes to East Coast Cool, trumpeter John McNeil's third provocative effort in a row for Omnitone following several '80s SteepleChases no one much noticed, Dave Douglas's onetime teacher explains that the idea was to combine "East Coast edge" and "West Coast economy of expression," the latter epitomized for him by Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet with Chet Baker. The rest of the material is original in more than name only. A measure of McNeil's success that the edgiest thing here, next to his adaptation of a 12-tone Schoenberg piano concerto, might be a deconstruction of the Mulligan-associated "Bernie's Tune"poked at affectionately, its bridge flattened and decelerated into abstraction. Along with Mulligan and Baker, the iron-lipped McNeil and the supple baritonist Allan Chase call up Kenny Dorham and Ernie Henry, Pee Wee Russell and Marshall Brown, and Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (West Coasters once, too). Going pianoless means greater melodic freedom for horns, but greater harmonic responsibilty for bass; John Hebert, as trusty here as on Andrew Hill's Time Lines, shoulders the added burden gracefully while never leaving doubt where the beat is unless some doubt is called for. And I swear Matt Wilson's spry cymbals would have brought to mind Gerard Manley Hopkins's concept of sprung rhythm even without the prod of a McNeil tune called "Wanwood."
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