Sunday, 2 March 2008

John Swana & Joe Magnarelli...

Caught in the middle of a tough magazine deadline, I've found myself working for most of the weekend to a pretty impossible schedule. Nobody likes to work on a weekend, but with three books and four CDs to get through in 7 days, what else can you do?

By way of a distraction, here's a re-print of another old review. Chosen because it reminds me of much of the revivalist fare I'm dealing with this weekend, I'm starting to worry that I'm becoming too cynical and expect too much from new releases. Every now and again something good comes along - I'm currently enjoying the new Christian Scott - but 'undone by history' is really just a polite way of saying that the disc below is undistinguished and pretty dispensable.

New York - Philly Junction

New York-Philly Junction; Giants; My Old Flame; Lou Ann; From Now On; Eagles; They Say It’s Wonderful; If Ever I Would Leave You.

Joe Magnarelli, John Swana (t); Eric Alexander (ts); Joel Weiskopf (p); Peter Washington (b); Kenny Washington (d).
Recorded November 2003.

Whenever I’m faced with a hard-bop twin-trumpet attack, and that isn’t very often, comparisons to great encounters of the past are inevitably made. Blue Note, the label which Criss Cross so closely resembles, have set most of the benchmarks - think of Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan’s ‘Night Of The Cookers’, or Hubbard with Woody Shaw on their two fiery encounters from the late 80s, and more recently the superb ‘Hubsongs’ by Time Hagans and Marcus Printup.

Magnarelli and Swana both have the chops and clearly know their history, but ‘New York-Philly Junction’ sounds almost desiccated when compared to any of the above, lacking the mandatory ebullience and eschewing all temptation for musical jousting. The session is actually a follow-up to the the same group’s Philly-New York Junction (1998), also on Criss Cross, so the consistently reliable producer Gerry Teekens obviously has faith in the format.

John Swana is the more interesting of the two players, getting into the advanced harmonic terrain of Shaw and Charles Tolliver with alacrity, nowhere to better effect than on the lively opener. The presence of Alexander’s robust tenor is always a pleasure, and booted along by the Washingtons he provides many of the disc’s most exciting moments. Each player is featured on a ballad from the standard repertoire, and up-tempo originals like ‘Eagles’ and ‘Giants’ (two NFL football teams from Philly and NYC respectively, in case you didn’t know) serve as good blowing vehicles without being particularly memorable.

Perhaps my main gripe is with the uninspired nature of the material, much of it harking back to to pre-modal forms and sounding self-consciously mannered and old fashioned as a result. Where the material becomes trickier, namely on ‘Giants’ and ‘Lou Ann’, it does so via scarcely concealed recycling of Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ progression. You won’t hear anything disagreeable, and the playing is impeccable throughout, but this is ultimately a recording undone by the weight of history.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, April 2004)

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