June 2015 issue of the Los Angeles Jazz Scene
Not everyone on the contemporary jazz scene falls neatly into tradition versus avant, trad versus free, pulse versus freetime, etc. In fact most of the players if not all out there in the "new" category have a strong sense of history and open themselves to it to varying degrees depending on the project and playing association at hand at any given time.
What is particularly satisfying about Maestro Tabnik's playing is the way he re-channels a Tristano influence into a personal contemporary sound and point of view. He does not sound so much like the original Tristano sax acolytes Konitz and Marsh as much as he takes the impetus of Lennie's asymmetrical across-the-bar phrasings and opens them up to a free zone, which may have implied changes underneath, but fly far afield chromatically and expressively to something most definitely post-new-thing. He has that cry and he can generate good improv ideas for sustained excitement over long periods.
Adam Lane comes through on bass throughout with beautiful walking and commentary from his corner of the rhythm section as well as extended solo spots that bring home his centrality among the new scene bass players today. Drummer Roger Mancuso is a fellow Crothers group member who has played with Tabnik for a long time and gives out with the very swinging and varied support needed.
And then of course this is Richard's chance to really stretch out and he takes full advantage with some hot-plate scorching and a freely ranging imagination. Sometimes all this takes place on top of implied changes, such as "I'll Remember April" changes at the start. Other times there is a looser harmonic framework. And always there is a very fully open harmonic-melodic sensibility that you listen to with open ears to fully understand.
One thing to consider. This is a great deal of music. You may want to take on one CD at a sitting on first hear. But the rewards are directly proportionate to the time and space the band and you, the listener, devote to making this music sound. It is well worth the effort.
Tabnik shows us why he remains a crucial force in jazz today--and he does it wholly on his own terms. Kudos!
Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review
May 16, 2014
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Looking at the cover, with a man sitting peacefully, holding a newspaper in his hand that reads *War is a Racket*, behind him a peace symbol, you might think that you are about to hear the album of a rock-and-roll artist or a singer-songwriter. However, this man is Richard Tabnik, one of the great contemporary alto sax players, who has been playing in pianist Connie Crothers* quartet for years and who is now leading his own trio with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Roger Mancuso. The two sidemen are vastly experienced musicians, Lane with his projects in the realm of free music, including orchestral contexts, and Mancuso, who played for many years with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, and for years has been a stable fixture in Connie Crothers* quartet. The sound of Tabnik*s sax, calmly advancing against the rhythm, and the quotes from famous standards throughout the statement give this disc a unique fascination.
And this is beyond the message of peace, which places this album in the company of those famous recordings from the Liberation Orchestra to Sonny Rollins and Max Roach. Every note has its own inflection and pronunciation, the claim of a certain autonomy in that which is the world of contemporary jazz. One can hear the influence of his former teacher, Lee Konitz, whom he specifically thanks in the album credits, along with John Zorn, who invited him to the Stone, the mythical avant-garde venue in New York. Tabnik inhabits the traditions of jazz, just as his two sidemen, yet he manages to convey an original message along with an absolute mastery in his command of improvisation.
The three know how to blend and present themselves to the audience with a precise group identity, original as individual instrumentalists and as a trio. It is not difficult to distinguish them from their colleagues! The first disc is a studio recording, the second a live recording from the Stone. Both are comprised of a pair of spontaneously improvised tracks followed by the suite, Symphony for Jazz Trio / A Prayer for Peace. The two versions, live and in-studio, each have their own fascination, and either one could easily be your favorite. With this kind of improviser, each track could be performed a multitude of times, but every version would highlight new aspects. Along with their message of peace is the beauty of these takes and the originality of the music, which insure that they will not soon be forgotten.
Vittorio Lo Conte
January 20, 2013
translation by Lorenzo Sanguedolce
read the review in Italian here: http://www.musiczoom.it/?p=11425
Remember all those art-house B movies about dope fiends, those grainy black and white 50s soft porn peep show vignettes, that strange underworld of art wherein you took it all in with a hazed grin but wondered "Where the hell are they getting all that cool post-beatnik jazz from in the soundtracks???" 'Member those? I do, which is probably revealing more about me than I should. One rarely discovered from whom and whence the sounds issued, though, and it was never quite in the Dexter Gordon / Charlie Parker mode, more the Maynard G. Krebs / Lol Coxhill side of things. Writer Marc Medwin quite rightly attributes many modalities to Richard Tabnik, his trio, and their A Prayer for Peace—Cagian and way-post-Mozartian included—and I have no quibble with any of it; still, this is beatnik jazz, bubba, and thank the stars for that 'cause it's a disappearing medium.
Medwin also notes, in his 4-page liner essay, that Prayer arose from a conversation between saxist Tabnik and drummer Roger Mancuso. I say that conversation extended deeply into the music and became more than a set of internal interchanges. Musical conversations occur in three levels: with oneself, between fellow players, and outward to the audience. Most groups play a setwith themselves, work for the audience or disport among themselves in improv, but Tabnik and Trio are one of those rare units conversing to the audience. There's a difference, and you can as much feel as hear it in this double disc uniquely presenting the studio version of the centerpiece, Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace, and then a live version on the second disc. The triumvirate's sound not only creates itself but also projects preternaturally without any need for over-amplification or histrionics, resulting in palpable 3-D tactility. That's what caught my attention right off the bat; that's the unique hook.
Peace unfolds itself like a novel: intro, exposition, then an involved weaving meditation culminating in denouement, reflection, and recap/coda. Especially during the 12:17 What About the Homeless?, Tabnik's mind and heart are laid open in a melancholic dirge fretting over brother and sister humans caught in the merciless jaws of the carcinogenic virus we call 'capitalism', and Richard doesn't just appraise the unfortunates, he gets down in the gutter with them, sleeps the cold nights, wonders about his next meal. It's all right there in his horn, a sad mistral lark lamenting man's inhumanity to man. Mancuso and bassist Adam Lane quietly tread the path just steps behind, writing it all down, a tear welling up, Lane's solo becoming a poem laid beside a fresh grave. Don't expect Gato Barbieri, Jaco Pastorius, and Billy Cobham, this isn't a chopsfest but instead an essay, a journal entry covering the silent class war, a reflection in a rain puddle under lowering skies.
Tabnik, you see, has read Smedley Butler's classic War is a Racket and has followed the hallowed USMC Major General's observations out to their grim final end: the toll on the homefront to the least among us. When fully half or more of America's incredible dazzling wealth is given to warmongers and ravening inhuman business monsters, what's left for us, we from whom the money was taken? The answer is embedded in this CD set, and, speaking of Smedley Butler—not to mention L. Fletcher Prouty, Chris Hedges, Michael Chussadofsy, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and a fully loaded double handful of others—I cannot wait for the day the present era's radio pseuds (the "Left", the "progressive", the "liberal" infauxtainers) disappear, which they're blindly working on even as I write, thank God, along with their chirographic brethren and we have some true and palpable Leftist thinking in this country: an end to religion, capitalism, Republicanism, and the myriad poisons which have malefically clogged mankind's lifelines for all of history and now threaten to consummate their collective fell intent to a degree that will horrify future generations…if any survive long enough to produce those later cultures. So when you, dear reader/listener, turn on the radio, when you're watching for the vultures, don't forget the snakes.
Mark S. Tucker
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
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"Discs one and two represent two complete performances of alto saxophonist Tabnik, drummer Roger Mancuso and bassist Adam Lane improvising quite freely on songs then addressing a six-movement piece that is in ambition, if not instrumentation, “symphonic.” Tabnik may be known, to some extent, for his appearances with pianist Connie Crothers, one of the most visionary explorers emerging from Lennie Tristano’s lineage, and like her he subscribes to the Tristano strategy of devising intricate harmonic variations of standards like “All the Things You Are,” “I Got Rhythm” etc. Glimpses of those themes peak out from the trio’s otherwise nicely synchronized yet stream-of-consciousness play.
The saxophonist is extremely fluid within his personal saxophone sound, which is like a very close, intimating voice offering ideas at a rapid rate or bouncing back thoughts proposed by his bandmates. They, in turn, maintain a stream of deftly marked time, while remaining loosely responsive to Tabnik’s phrases and inflections. He pushes intonation into high-octave microtonality, with a logic in his lines akin to some of Anthony Braxton’s directions, the light dryness of Paul Desmond and occasional Ornette-like runs or fragments. However, I have a hard time distinguishing one movement of Tabnik’s symphony — each with a politically sensitive title — from the next. Well-attuned interaction by these three, though, musical heart in the right place."
Jazz Beyond Jazz, Howard Mandel's Urban Improvisation
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