Luca Casarotti’s review of Cedar Wisely from All About Jazz – Italy
(Translated – original Italian version here)
Rating – 4.5 Stars
When a debut album like this is released, the date should be circled in red on the calendar. The Songlines label has just released Cedar Wisely, the first work as a leader from the saxophonist Chris Clark. Cut in 2011 with a quintet that includes the same Clark’s mentor, saxophonist Peter Epstein, the disk is composed of nine tracks, including two improvisations and expresses an artistic personality, that of a leader, already mature and fully aware.
The first characteristic to stand out is the omnivorous musical culture of the saxophonist from Boston. This allows him to write and perform compositions far from a defined and stringent language, that could signal a precise adherence to a linguistic code, but that often ends up with more than the cage that determines identity. Not too explicit, but Clark makes no mystery of the tribute to Ornette Coleman represented by the song “Inside the Gloves.” Then there is a further tribute, here more in the title than in the composition: “Cage Factor.”
The two free improvisations are lead by restricted formations, not by the whole quintet: the front lines of the saxophones in the first case, the two saxes and the piano in the second. It is short chamber fragments, very dilated, that form the intro to the preceding composition.
Clark and friends confidently converse with different atmospheres and dynamics, from the solemn lyrics and humble songs like “Indecisive” to the lively air and fast pace of “Inside the Gloves,” passing through pop’s simplicity to an articulated piece like “Cage Factor.”
Above all, they impress two features: the wise patience with which all soloists build their improvisations, free of rips, holes or force and harmonic research, aimed at the essentiality of the parts, without renouncing an increasingly perceptible underlying complexity.
Clark seems to have learned and made his own the “avant” lesson of Berne or Zorn, declining it with a voice of his own, already sure of himself. Of course, this positive opinion is affected by the writer’s musical taste, but it is rare to come across debut works so marked by such clarity of expression.