Saxophonist Chris Greene and the members of his quartet—pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane, and drummer Steve Corley—understand music. They understand what makes it interesting, what makes it beautiful, what makes it feel good, and what makes it ultimately something that’s worth listening to.
They’re musicians. They didn’t gain that understanding by just accepting music at face value. They approach music like mad scientists, dissecting it, adding and removing elements, and piecing it all back together again before offering it to audiences and sharing it with each other in an aurally thrilling package.
The group’s latest recording, Music Appreciation, is two-discs of exploration and declaration. According to the liner notes, bars, beats, and time signatures were manipulated on several of the songs. That’s not an unusual thing for a musician to do, but Greene’s execution and vision add an intriguing element to what is already great music.
The most obvious examples are found on disc two where John Coltrane’s “Equinox” is given a reggae makeover and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s version of Martin Denny’s “Firecracker” is stripped of half a beat taking the song from disco-lite to just a plain ol’ head-nodding, toe-tapping, feel good song. Another example appears on disc one on the Charles Mingus penned “Nostalgia in Times Square.” The tune is slowed down a bit and given a little oomph, sounding at times like a song someone’s parents might have cooled out to at a basement red-light party. Despite all of the cool things Greene and company were able to do with Coltrane, Denny, and Mingus tunes, the real star of the Music Appreciation show, outside of the phenomenal cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Deluge” which featured what is arguably Greene’s best performance on the entire two-disc set, is the group’s take on their own compositions.
The propulsive drumbeat that opens “The Missing Part” demands attention, but then the song transitions to a mellower groove that makes the song flow nicely. “The Moose is Loose” is a great mix of tradition with a touch of the contemporary. The music feels very familiar and the interplay between Greene’s sax, Espinosa’s piano, and Corley’s drums adds an air of fun and mischief. Greene’s witty sense of humor and fatherly love shine through in his approach to “Molar Melancholia,” a song the liner notes indicate was inspired by the new father’s experience during his infant son’s teething journey. The song that was inspired by so much pain is performed beautifully as a ballad. This just goes to show that no matter what a child does or goes through, a parent will find the beauty.
With quotes from the likes of Bruce Lee, Will Smith, and (what sounds like) Branford Marsalis weaved in for effect, Music Appreciation is proof positive that your expectation of who these guys should be and how they should play is not what the group aspires to. But if you like it, it’s all good.
For more information on the Chris Greene Quartet, go to http://chrisgreenejazz.com/