Spent the last couple months with John McHenry & Bill McNeil‘s latest deal, Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (Sunnyside). The reason I mixed up the monikers of the sixtysomething trumpeter and the thirtysomething saxophonist isn’t just because the guys blend so seamlessly on stage, it’s because the album title is an anagram of their names. Here are two players who have worked with each other for years now, bringing inventive contours to a book of tunes that often tilts towards forgotten nuggets of West Coast jazz. The kick of the music comes from the wedding of overtly chipper melodies and mildly abstract improvs. Some groups play through tunes in a studious manner and everyone applauds the correctness. Others throw a load of charisma on the table and see how flexible the material can be. These two are in the latter camp (although only a fool would doubt their bedrock “correctness”) and though McNeil says Jenny is really drummer Jochen Rueckert‘s disc (he does push this stuff along), methinks the top tickles come from the co-leaders. I like Russ Freeman’s “Maid In Mexico” and Wilbur Harden’s “Wells Fargo,” and agree with KL Williams: the nuggets they update aren’t the most well known tunes on the planet, and they do bend ’em a bit, so in some ways it’s like hearing a book of originals.
McNeil is a hot shit, known to get his anecdote on between songs, so keep an ear open at the Cornelia Street Cafe tonight. McHenry likes to twist gruff into graceful, and enjoys an allusion or two. If I ain’t wrong, he dips into “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Strangers In the Night” on the above clip. The last time they set up shop I said this in the Voice:
I’m pro puckishness when it comes to the way jazz musicians choose tunes and bend infrastructures. A mix of wit and glee is fetching—one reason why this multi-generational trumpet-tenor team has seemed so inspired of late. On last year’s Rediscovery, they lined West Coast nuggets (Russ Freeman, Chet Baker) with East Coast abstractions—wiggling with aplomb through the barbs of retrofuturism. This weekend, they again take a recorder to the stand and attempt more of same. Expect a Dizzy rarity and a stab at Bing’s “Aren’t You Glad You’re You.” Prediction: You’ll be glad they’re them.
This time I’m simply saying you should go. I’ll leave you with McNeil recently speaking to an audience about the attractions of musical forthrightness and the woes of touring. My upcoming DownBeat profile on him hits in a month or two.
“This might sound preachy, but I’m 62 and I don’t give a fuck. Often composers don’t put enough things in [the music] that will reach an audience. Art for art’s sake – I’m for that, absolutely – but I’m also into playing for people. We try to give you something that you find interesting. In the end we want you to feel something has happened, we want to have events unfold and make sure we made something with a certain amount of drama in it. If that doesn’t happen, I think it’s the fault of the music, not the fault of the audience…unless they’re all wearing cowboy hats. I once played Oklahoma City, and an enormous guy came up to me, basically a large appliance with a hat. “That there a trumpet,” he asked. “Yes, yes sir it is,” I said. “I used to play trumpet,” he went on, “I could play everything, B, B flat, all them notes.” I tried to not laugh because he was a very big man. And he says “You know, you remind me of Chuck Manglobe.” And I said, “Well I’ve always liked Chuck, he’s pretty good.” But what I wanted to say was “Oh god, please… I’m sorry, I seem to be bleeding internally, I have to go now.”