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John D'Earth - Restoration Comedy

DTRCD - 176

John D'earth - Trumpet, Jerry Bergonzi - Tenor Sax, Mulgrew Miller - Piano, Mike Richmond - Bass, Howard Curtis - Drums

1. In Medias Res 7:48
2. Everyday Tune 8:08
3. Restoration Comedy 7:21
4. Dawn 6:07
5. Daphne 6:59
6. All The Things You Are Except One 5:15
7. Ooboo Way 8:43
8. There Will Never Be Another You 4:09
9. Play's Itself 6:05
10. Punch Line 6:48
Total Time 67:47

Listen to CD Tracks

     Restoration Comedy takes its title from John’s composition whose six-measure head, constructed of open fourths and fifths, recalls the stentorian horns of a Renaissance theatrical fanfare. As a title for his third recording as a leader, its meaning assumes literal and literary connotations. Restoration Comedy is the name given to the witty, urbane seventeenth century English theatrical form which staged the sexual pursuits of “proper society” for laughs and social critique. While joy in comedy is central to the music on this date, you can be sure humor’s potential for oblique social critique does not escape John.
 What then for restoration? As it is for so many of his generation who came of age in the sixties when jazz and improvisation were being explored as practices leading toward heightened consciousness and spiritual awareness, music for John remains spiritually restorative and regenerative. This date also marks John’s return to the quintet format after years of commitment to other projects—most notably his octet captured on his recording Thursday Night: Live at Miller’s (Cosmology Records). Twelve years of playing at the now-famed Miller’s has made his weekly session a Charlottesville (VA) institution.  In addition, and particularly pertinent here, is this date’s restoration and fulfillment of John’s long-standing wish to record with Jerry Bergonzi. They first gigged together in the late 60s outside Boston before playing sessions in the legendary New York loft scene of the 1970s.  Jerry has come to be recognized as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in jazz.  He has a distinct ability to evoke light whispers while communicating an immense gravity.

 In a period of careful, often radio-conscious, jazz arrangements, this recording returns to the spirit of the fierce, blues-drenched blowing sessions of the sort Alfred Lion produced on Blue Note. Referencing a New York Times article in which writer Ben Ratliff proclaimed the fifties-style blowing session passe, John, with no dearth of sarcasm, claims that he was just hoping to “get one under the wire before the jazz solo itself became completely obsolete.”

 Appropriate to John’s fusing of musical and word play with dramatic allusions, he has titled the first track “In Medias Res,” a Latin term for the Homeric device of beginning an epic poem in the middle of heated action. Fittingly, the musicians, led by John, bust into blowing like cops into a crack house. Taken together, “Restoration Comedy” and “Dawn”—two of the four recorded compositions not written explicitly for this date—recall John’s work with his regular Miller’s group. The appropriately gorgeous melody of “Dawn” recalls not only those compositions he and his wife Dawn Thompson have written to feature her lyrics and singing but also the spirit of Mingus who integrated improvisation, arrangements and compositions in order to create a dynamic that revels in original, raw inspiration. Horn interludes like those in dialogue with the drums on “Restoration Comedy” are typical of John’s improvisatory arrangements. “Daphne” mirrors John’s daughter, for whom the tune is named, in that its simple, beautiful melody gives way to the complexity of the bridge’s rich harmonies and less predictable melodic line. “Play’s Itself” alludes to the way the tune seems to play itself, and it celebrates play as an end in itself.  The melody’s implied tempo shifts toy with the changes to “Confirmation” much like Bob Moses’ “Autumn Liebs” plays with “Autumn Leaves.”  Those familiar with John’s work with the late Emily Remler will detect a bright uplift in “Ooboo Way” reminiscent of that group’s recordings.

 Jerry Bergonzi noted the diversity of musical sounds that John’s compositions brought to the recording.  He has countless tunes with traces of influence from Emily, Moses, Mingus, Rahsaan, Lee Morgan, Miles, Woody Shaw; the list goes on. But as Jerry noted, as a player and composer, “John has his own voice.”  That uniqueness comes from his restless curiosity and his faith in his own ears regardless of the boundaries they lead him across. His keen sense of time, subtle swing and razor-edged tone enable him to bring a drummer-like conception to the instrument. (You should hear him play the drums.) The melodies John develops within a duple division of eighth-note triplets are of such strength that
one often hears his lines progressing and resolving sooner than expected. The effect is that his lines float, liberated from the principal meter, yet drive ferociously with rhythmic precision.

 According to John, Mulgrew Miller “found a language for this situation.” John feels that Mulgrew “played these tunes for the first time as if he had written them himself.” Pointing out Mulgrew’s tonal clusters at the end of his second chorus on “In Medias Res,” John offers one of his greatest compliments: “It’s definitely in the moment.”  Also check his fading improvisation at the end of “Ooboo Way.”  The clarity and strength of his musical line and Howard’s and Mike’s unified response form an interactive moment emblematic of the sort of collectively improvised arrangements pervasive in John’s regularly working bands.  That this moment happened on this rhythm section’s first meeting speaks volumes for their keen ears and nimble responsiveness.

 Like Jerry, bassist Mike Richmond played with John in New York in the seventies, including a stint with the group Cosmology (Vanguard Records), co-led by John, Dawn Thompson, and long-time friend and drummer Robert Jospe. Howard Curtis has collaborated with John for years and appeared on John’s recording One Bright Glance (Enja). His feet-stomping swing, bombs popping, abstract grooves, and rich timbral pallet mesh intuitively with Mike’s and Mulgrew’s playing to form a fierce rhythm section.

 Jerry, Mulgrew, Howard and Mike have brought the broadest spectrum of light to the depths of John’s music.  Perhaps most satisfying to John would be the honesty and humor unleashed by the musicians’ total presence and the unflappable joy such presence brings.  Years of serious music making produced the abundance of sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic interaction and the eminent virtuosity here, but should these aspects strike you most on first listening, John D’earth would entreat you to tune in to the irreverent and even snarky humor seeping through the seams of a serious and polished veneer. 
Charles Ferris, Oakland, CA 2000