Turner Around


“This is the only night this month that I could get these guys together,” Chris Lightcap explained before his first set at Barbés. The bassist was referring to his blue-ribbon quintet—tenor saxophonists Mark Turner and Tony Malaby, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. As it turned out, he was one short: Turner was double-booked in another borough. So the band, which usually leans on a twin-tenor conceit, resembled a standard quartet instead.

But the repertoire was Lightcap’s, and the group dug in wholeheartedly. A loopy 6/4 opener, “Deluxe Version,” offered much tillable ground; Taborn started fragmentary and ended fluid, then Malaby did the opposite. “Silvertone,” also in six, conveyed the gentle discontent of a Focus Features soundtrack, complete with smartly simple bridge modulation. Things took a more sanguine turn as the polyrhythmic churner “Two Face” skirted the boundaries of tempo and tonality. The rest of the set teetered on that axis, testing the flexibility of the musicians—especially Malaby, who spent the last few tunes crashing through the woods and having a fine time doing it.

Turner, at the Jazz Standard the following night, was more of a navigator, charting precise and ingenious courses. He was playing with drummer Billy Hart, and his cohorts Ethan Iverson on piano and Ben Street on bass. Another standard quartet, only this one actually did standards, including Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” and Miles’s “Milestones”—vehicles for chromatic calisthenics, at least in the hands of Iverson and Turner. Iverson was less emphatic than his Bad Plus self, but his personality remained intact; in a solo preface to “These Foolish Things,” he tossed off a handful of steel shavings and a resolute bass-clef harrumph.

Hart’s rubbery yet grounded sense of time could well have influenced Cleaver. He took the occasion of his own gig to dedicate one song to his mother (the Afro-ballad “Irah”) and another to his wife (an impressionistic “Charvez”). Both were winsome, sleek, and uncomplicated; they sounded, in fact, not unlike Lightcap tunes.