The Jeff Newell Quartet | Jack the Ripper

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Jazz: Progressive Jazz Jazz: Contemporary Jazz Moods: Featuring Saxophone
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Jack the Ripper

by The Jeff Newell Quartet

Progressive music in the jazz tradition that impresses with breeding and charm before it strikes with silk-gloved force.
Genre: Jazz: Progressive Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. There Is No Greater Love
4:59 $0.99
2. Samba Da Gamba
5:41 $0.99
3. Love For Sale
6:11 $0.99
4. Eliot's Mess
7:17 $0.99
5. Toe-Knee
8:04 $0.99
6. My Heart Belongs to Daddy
6:16 $0.99
7. I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You
6:24 $0.99
8. Jack the Ripper
7:52 $0.99
9. Infant Eyes
6:20 $0.99
10. Puffs
5:36 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This album is a snapshot. While some recordings act as documentaries of full-length films, covering an entire career or a particular trend in the life of a musician, this one grabs a spot of time.

"I wanted to document this band," says Jeff Newell, the Nebraska-bred altoist who designed this Kodak moment. And as you'll hear, he had good reason: he felt that the several years they had spent together, building a rapport and a repertoire, really counted for something. "I felt that it was really a band, and not just a bunch of musicians." The strength of that bond has made it possible for Newell to maintain his relationship with these musicians—even though they continue to live in Chicago, where the band was formed, and Newell now lived in New York, where he moved in 1994.

If you're like most people, you have only a slight familiarity with Jeff Newell or with his centered music and its quiet strength. He headlines infrequently in New York, and as a recording artist, he has appeared only on a half-dozen albums, most of them for small labels, all of them hard to find. But whether leading his well-regarded New-Trad Octet (patterned after the New Orleans brass-band revival) or slipping in behind leaders who hear the soul behind his slightly mournful sound—such as Chicago organist Charles Earland, with whom he played in the early 90s and recorded one CD—Newell makes his presence felt. It might have something to do with his six-foot-five stature; but no, neither Newell nor his playing will grab you around the collar and throw you against a wall. His horn doesn't swagger in the manner of Charlie Parker or Phil Woods, and his tone won't pin back your ears, like David Sanborn's or Arthur Blythe's. Instead, like the notorious figure evoked by this album's title, Newell's music impresses with breeding and charm before it strikes with silk-gloved force.

This hidden strength did not inhabit Jeff Newell's horn from the get-go; instead, it has grown from hard musical work and the harder work of attaining self-knowledge. It reflects studies in the French classical literature, a sure influence on his tightly bound sound, and studies in Chicago with altoist and nationally known jazz educator Bunky Green. It encompasses lessons with the late Chicago sax man Joe Daly, a master of chords and harmonic innovation, and later lessons about self-reliance with the saxophone juggernaut Dave Liebman. It alludes to two marriages and one spousal death. Mostly, though, it stems from Newell's ability to follow the positive whispers of inner voices.

"It had to do with having a little more faith in myself and the things that I believed in—musically, but also spiritually—and in my own abilities. I realized I really can write music, I really can arrange music, and that this music would be worthwhile for somebody to listen to." To get to this point, Newell had to accept that he would ever be the sort of aggressive stylist that he most admired. "A lot of people think of Paul Desmond when they hear me, and at first that really offended me," Newell says, laughing, "because I wanted to be a 'hot' player. It took a while to accept that this is not who I am, and that subtlety and nuance is a big part of my music."

The results became evident to Newell's audience and friends around 1990, when his tone, the direction of his solos, even his onstage demeanor, a climbed to a new plateau. It's probably no coincidence that within the year he had begun building the perfect support group for continued growth—the quartet heard on this album. "There's something unique about this band," Newell points out. "In these times, people don't usually play together over longs periods on a regular basis. But Steve Million [the effervescent pianist with two albums under his on name on Palmetto Records] and I had played for three years or so. Larry Kohut [one of Chicago's most adaptable and yet individualistic bassists] had been there for two. And I had worked with Vitek [as in Rick, the fiery and exacting drummer] on all kinds of different projects going back twelve years." By the time of this recording, the Jeff Newell Quartet had a unity that allowed for the propulsive interplay you hear throughout this disc.

To hear what I mean, start at the beginning, with the flat-out joy of "No Greater Love;" taken at a brisk clip, the arrangement bears small but telling indications of Newell's imagination (particularly in the sudden double-time passages). He makes quite different use of alternating time-signatures on another standard, Cole Porter's “Love For Sale," using an off-kilter lope of 7/4 time borrowed from Steve Coleman's m-base music, before reverting to a straight four-beat on the bridge. On one other Porter composition, "My Heart Belongs To Daddy," Newell had some fun mirroring the mixed message of the song's lyrics (which outline a relationship we'd now describe as co-dependent infidelity): his arrangement emphasized the fact that this basically lighthearted melody remains in a minor key whenever the lyrics mention "Daddy."

Most of Newell's own compositions take their titles and inspiration from events in his life, but not necessarily the lighthearted kind. For instance, he wrote "Samba da Gamba" in homage to "the pangs of unconsummated love, when feelings are strong but circumstances make it impossible for us to act on them." Newell chose the title "Eliot's Mess" not for T.S. Eliot but rather for Eliot Ness: it has to do with the bind in which a man can find himself when he models his life on fictional white knights (a la "The Untouchables"). As for the title track, it really is named for someone called Jack, who developed a somewhat treacherous dual personality; to capture that duality, Newell based the tune on polychords, "darker" chords superimposed on chords with brighter voicing. (In details such as these, Newell reveals his respect for the work of Wayne Shorter—as if his lovely evocation of Shorter's ballad "Infant Eyes" might not have given him away.)

Jack and Jeff have little in common, though. Despite its many moods, Newell's music speaks from a unified and admirable well-balanced perspective. It illuminates this album like the clear, piercing gaze in a Mapplethorpe photo—a snapshot of a moment in the recent past, worth hearing for the foreseeable future.

author The Playboy Guide To Jazz
(Plume, August 1998)



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