Published in Jazz Improv, V. 4, No. 3 (12/2003)
Chris Greco Trio, Pleiadian Call, GWSFourwinds Records
Released 2002. Recorded September 9-10, 2000, Los Angeles.
"The Open Door"; "Pleiadian Call"; "Yvette"; "Rains and Prayers"; "Innocence"; "The Flight of a Bird Leaves No Trace"; "Ask"; "Messages"; "Afterthought".
Personnel: Chris Greco, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Chris Colangelo, contrabass; Kendall Kay, drums and percussion.
Review by Virginia A. Schaefer
Chris Greco wrote all the music on Pleiadian Call, and he also expertly plays all the sax, clarinet, and flute parts. With the equally able bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Kendall Kay, he presents musical creations that are organic and varied, some quite cerebral and contemplative, others more expressive, swinging, even funky. In his liner notes, Greco describes his approach to composition: the importance he gives to the character of the instruments, his conception of tonality, how he interrelates successive pieces through harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, and meter, and his conception of foreground and background parts. Surprisingly, Greco’s liner notes don’t explicitly address improvisation; some of this music may be improvised, but most sounds composed. Greco’s first two CDs included jazz standards as well as his originals, and one disc used a guitarist and the other a pianist. Here, with fewer performers, he seems to aim for more musical control.
The first piece, "The Open Door", resembles a standard jazz arrangement of head-solos-outchorus. After Kay’s hand-drumming introduction, Greco plays the theme on clarinet, backed by plucked bass and drums, cymbals, and rattling shells. Greco’s thematic development uses contrapuntal devices like retrograde and inversion. In occasional interludes, bass and clarinet play sustained tones in parallel octaves. Greco notes that the piece is bitonal; the clarinet plays a twelve-tone line while the bass line is in a particular key. Greco takes advantage of the clarinet’s timbre with expressive trills and occasional vibrato.
"Rains and Prayers" is a compelling performance that starts with Colangelo’s bass playing octaves with Greco’s tenor sax. Then, Colangelo launches a series of bass patterns with a propulsive groove that continues throughout. Kay takes an impressive solo on trap drums while the bass patterns continue. The main melody is in a major tonality with some pentatonic sections, while the bass plays in another key. On "Innocence", Greco plays alto sax, with trap drums and bass playing a freeform melody that sounds a little like Monk’s "Ask Me Now". Colangelo plays a substantial bass solo, with sax twittering and light percussion. At one point the bass and drums play together rhythmically while the sax plays a countermelody. On "Ask", Colangelo also plays alto, high and light, starting at a medium-swing tempo and then picking up. Greco repeatedly plays the central motifs, while the bass walks and Kay plays drums and cymbals lightly with brushes. The theme of "Ask" also sounds a little like "Ask Me Now", an influence that the work’s title seems to confirm.
"Yvette" is a triple-time, medium-tempo piece with a lilting major-key melody and variations that Greco plays unceasingly throughout. The melody includes appealing trills on stressed notes. The flute plays bent pitches, along with the bowed bass, in a very pronounced and precise manner. There’s a tension between the dreamlike character of the music and the sound of the flute, which seems a bit synthetic, even though the only obvious artifice is the overdubbed clarinet at the start. Greco plays tenor on "Messages", stating the theme with Colangelo, who moves between playing in octaves and in contrary motion. Similarly to the emphasized trills in Yvette, Greco plays intervallic tremolos on stressed notes. The piece slips into various grooves while keeping the same tempo. "Afterthought" opens with soprano sax and overdubbed flute in parallel octaves with the bass playing at another interval, and Greco continues on soprano with a light and pleasant melody and variations.
The title track, "Pleiadian Call", is the longest on the disc. After the chimes opening, Greco starts a twelve-tone melodic journey on his tenor sax, playing a freeform theme and its transformations along with bass (pizz and arco), and drums and various percussion. Outstanding moments are Greco’s wide tremolo and a canonic section between sax and bass. At one point the sax plays solo on a pentatonic scale. Greco’s tenor style sounds close to hard-bop in his timbre, slightly breathy tone, and use of single-note tremolo. In a couple of spots, overdubbed clarinet and flute suddenly play a quick, repeated, impressionistic motif, like an imagined bird call. The closing restatement of the theme uses overdubbed clarinet and flute playing sustained notes in open harmony with tenor and closes with variations on the earlier motif.
"The Flight of a Bird Leaves No Trace", the second-longest track, starts with Kay’s restrained percussion of gongs and light drumming. Then, Greco on flute and Colangelo on plucked bass play a pentatonic melody in dissonant intervals, both subtly bending the pitches. Greco’s improvisation on the melody includes birdlike trills and tremolos, while Colangelo plays a countermelody that contrasts in phrasing. Greco makes a couple of vocal exclamations as he plays, unexpected in this abstract instrumental music. As on "Innocence", there’s a remarkable pairing of bass and percussion behind flute; for instance, bowed bass along with rubbed cymbals. A whole-tone scale figure repeats while Kay’s drumming recalls a bird’s beating wings. The bass’s repeating figures and tremolos, the rolling drums and cymbal commotion, and the fluttering and calling flute seems to trace the bird’s flight through rough weather and clearing skies. This evocative composition won Greco a Julius Hemphill Composition Award in 2001.