|John McNeil Bill McHenry – Chill Morn He Climb Jenny|
Trumpeter John McNeil and Bill McHenry have recently released their live CD Chill Morn He Climb Jenny. Recorded live at Cornelia Street Café, the two are joined by Joe Martin on bass and Jochen Ruekert on drums. Both McNeil and McHenry are known for their sometimes irreverent and experimental twist on jazz standards and here they do not disappoint.
Everything from the album’s artwork (Cows, model trucks and toy trains) to the musician’s photographs seems conspicuous. Jochen Rueckert’s puffing on a cigarette, Joe Martin’s slight, knowing glance – as if to know something we don’t, John McNeil’s less than impressed look and Bill McHenry’s eyes shaded by sunglasses…They are aiming for the eclectic, out of the ordinary, NPR crowd. Chill Morn He Climb Jenny is perfectly suited for this niche market fueled by experimentation and where creativity is king.
The opening standard Moonlight In Vermont is a bit left of center right off the bat. The unusual treatment of this beautiful standard showcases Bill McHenry’s tenor sound yet the trumpet sound a bit reverberant by comparison. This is Moonlight In Vermont, as most have never heard it. McHenry does execute a lovely cadenza at the end, which is received by a very appreciative crowd at Cornelia Street Café.
Next in line, Batter Up sounds more like the opener. Making it the second song on the recording is an interesting choice from a programming standpoint – however nothing about this CD appears to be predictable or as you might expect it to be.
As I listen more to Bill McHenry I can hear the influence of Trane but not an obsession. McHenry’s pensive tenor sound occasionally elicits shades of Trane and Lovano at the same time. The chordless quartet also allows the saxophone a great deal of harmonic freedom within the structure of each composition.
There is a playful quality to the ensemble’s rendition of Aren’t You Glad You’re You by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. McHenry explores the lowest range of the tenor, finally traveling into the upper register of the horn waning and bending. He crescendos into a flurry of notes, all the while the drummer and bass player are swinging hard.
Made In Mexico is a self-proclaimed “bebop rhumba.” McHenry offers a notably staccato tenor counterpoint to McNeil’s trumpet. The track is inside enough to be enjoyable to this listener but off the beaten path enough to make the cut here. McHenry’s opening solo statement is the first display of technique he allows himself on the first four cuts. It’s just enough to let us know he has some chops but not too much to flaunt technical prowess for no other purpose. Elsewhere there have been shades of Trane and Lovano but here it is elements of Sonny Rollins – he is definitely channeling Sonny. There is again some nice interplay between Martin and Rueckert on bass and drums respectively following the tenor solo. It is a favorable moment for the ensemble.
The up-tempo Bea’s Flat followed by Three And One gives the group an opportunity to swing hard as a unit. On the former trumpet and tenor swap back and forth in a spirited and friendly sparing session between McNeil and McHenry.
Carioca employs somewhat of a Mariachi band style rounded out by the medium slow swing of Wells Fargo. The pattern that the group seems to follow is to take something seemingly benign and follow it with something unexpected. On Wells Fargo it comes with the car alarm effect of the tenor repeating the same note incessantly on the bridge. McHenry takes it out – is it too far? It does seems even the crowd gets lost at times, judging from the smattering of applause following McHenry’s solo.
Phrancing is finally played - although briefly - as the break tune. McNeil offers some thanks and introductions to finish out Chill Morn He Climb Jenny.
All things considered, John McNeil and Bill McHenry demonstrate a lot of great jazz tradition spiced with joy, anger, irreverence and a host of other emotion. The entire group definitely has a sense of humor on top of not being afraid to experiment. If you are looking for something different from the usual, you may find it in Chill Morn He Climb Jenny.
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