Saturday, 12 April 2008

Adam Kolker - Sultanic Verses...

Not exactly a request, but Adam Kolker popped up in an email conversation earlier in the week. How many people can say that? Not many, I guess, and I suppose it's indicative of he type of emails that I enjoy reading and sending.

Better known as a baritone sax toting session-man heard in numerous top bands, my initial interest in this CD was probably stirred more by Billy Hart than the leader. As the review hopefully conveys, this is noteworthy for more reasons than just Billy Hart's impeccable contributions from the trap-set.

This is probably the 'real' Adam Kolker we're hearing here. Thoughtful and individual music, Kolker gets the chance to expound on tenor and soprano horns. I gather he's made several more discs since this one, and I'd like to get to hear them if at all possible...

Sultanic Verses

Sultan’s Dream; Waves; Verse 1; Track 4; Verse 2; Epistrophy; Dolphin Dance; Verse 3; All Or Nothing At All; Blues; Verse 4; Remembrance.

Adam Kolker (ss,ts); Bruce Barth (p); John Hebert (b); Billy Hart (d); Ray Baretto (perc).
Recorded June 2001.

Although previously aware of Kolker as the bari-slinger from his work in the horn sections of many top-flight contemporary big bands, the saxophonist that emerges on ‘Sultanic Verses’ is a revelation of the most pleasant kind. Noted employers of Kolker have included Maria Schneider, Bobby Previte and Ray Baretto, and when not performing his other major gig is as a teacher. This is only his second recording as a leader, and by sticking to soprano and tenor saxophones exclusively you could say that this is the real Adam Kolker standing up to be counted.

The cast of players he’s assembled for the occasion needs no introduction, and from the dancing opener ‘Sultan’s Dream’ to the haunting ballad ’Rememberance’ it is obvious that Kolker is both a soloist and composer of uncommon depth. Coming out of late period Coltrane with the compositional guile of Wayne Shorter and the cerebral leanings of Charles Lloyd, Kolker happily is able to bring enough of himself to remain very much his own man. The emphasis is on the spiritual properties of music, inspired by a meeting Kolker had with a musician called Sultaan.

The four ‘verses’ of the title are free improvisations, pitting gritty soprano against a polyrhythmic backdrop provided by Hart and Baretto. Short and punchy, they provide dramatic foils for the mix of standards and originals found elsewhere. ‘Epistrophy’, played on soprano, is delivered at a gallop, whilst ‘Dolphin Dance’ is a reflective duet with Barth that finds seemingly limitless space within Hancock’s elegant composition. The transformation of ‘All Or Nothing At All’ into ‘Crescent’ era Coltrane is an unexpected delight, and it gives the quartet, minus Baretto, a chance to really turn up the heat. ‘Blues’ studiously avoids any statements of the obvious, Kolker’s soprano lines sufficiently oblique to conjure the memory of the late lamented Steve Lacy.

There are no tricks or gimmicks on ‘Sultanic Verses’, just a reassuring affirmation of the values that make jazz such a vital music. Individuality and conviction collide with familiar traditions to produce a deeply satisfying piece of work.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, October 2004)

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