Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sky & Country

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Some of the great sax-drum-bass trios work by having the saxophone throw its weight around — think of the trios that tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler recorded. But even when Fly's Mark Turner is playing his tenor rather than alto or soprano, this collective tends to go the other way; the bass and drums lighten up to achieve a sort of free-floating instrumental equality. The Fly approach is not only about a lightness of touch — this is equally about fleetness of mind.

Fly is also, apparently, about taking their time to get things right. They first recorded as a group under drummer Jeff Ballard's name for a Chick Corea-helmed project in 2000. The trio — with bassist Larry Grenadier — didn't make its first record until 2004, and this is only their second. In the meantime, they've won praises from some key critics; New York Times scribes have lauded the group collectively and singled out Turner as the best jazz cat the public's never heard of. Fellow musicians lavishing the love include Corea, Brad Mehldau (who rounds out his trio with Ballard and Grenadier) and saxophone giant Lee Konitz; the latter has praised Turner, especially his control of the upper range of the tenor, putting him in the class with the late (and under-appreciated) Warne Marsh. That's an insider praises, but high insider's praise.

To this listener, while Turner's soprano work doesn't have the laser-like projection of Steve Lacy's, his command is comparable, and it's not only when he's on soprano that the group has the spry quality that Lacy and his collaborators sometimes achieved on trio discs like The Window. Fly's music is involved but not self-involved, rather it's consistently inviting.

W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to


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