By Travis Rogers, Jr.
Altered Narratives is Danny Green’s fourth album, his second on the OA2 label (OA2 22128). His exemplary trio (Justin Grinnell on bass and Julien Cantelm on drums) have explored Brazilian themes and have captivated the West Coast Jazz scene with their tight, albeit lyrical, expressions.
Danny Green composed all of the tracks for Altered Narratives and the album was recorded at the famed Sear Sound in New York City. The results are amazing.
The album opens with the bluesy Chatter from All Sides. According to Green, the writing was occasioned by being in the middle of his children playing. The different voices are evidenced in the trio’s differing expressions. The 16-bar theme is joyous and heart-warming. Grinnell’s bass solo is a grin from ear-to-ear. The whimsical drumming of Cantelm is equally infectious.
The Merge is cool conversation between Green and Grinnell. Sometimes in agreement, sometimes not. Cantelm is impressive and the whole trio is percussion on steroids. Green’s solo is riveting playing. This completely grabbed me. You will see what I mean. Grinnell takes his own solo and reveals his own perspective on the conversation. The tight blues closes out coolly.
October Ballad is one of the most lyrical pieces on an album full of such pieces. It is a touch of melancholy from the pen of one who knows how to evoke emotions from his listeners. I won’t say it is brooding—too fluid for that—but it is a reminiscence. It calls to mind emotions and moments that have left a mark but not a scar. Then comes the Grinnell bass solo as the piano recedes for a moment. Rarely do I hear a bassist as purely emotional as he can be. Lovely tune.
6 A.M. is a hot rhythmic piece. It recalls the baião patterns of Brazil and it just smokes. It creates the imagery of getting up early, still only half-awake, before taking on the day. This thing moves in such tight turns and swings just the way we like it.
Second Chance sounds like it could have come from one of the love songs of European late-Romanticism. Toward that end, a string quartet joins in and completes the impression. Once again, the word lyrical must be used to describe the movement and expression of this incredible, indelible artistry. The chord changes, the lilting phrases are gorgeous. Green’s piano work is fabulous. Captivating.
Katabasis follows after with the string quartet still aboard. The cello of Anja Wood opens the string section. The piano and strings are precise and exacting. Grinnell and Cantelm are tight and the pizzicato strings add a pop to the piece that spins away from the established orbit. Katabasis was the Greek word referencing Orpheus’ journey to Hades to rescue his beloved Eurydice. The piece contains all that imagery and emotion, moving from darkness to almost-light before Orpheus looks back to see Eurydice snatched away again.
The quartet remains for one last piece with Porcupine Dreams. The trio opens the piece with the strings in the backdrop. It is an overwhelming melody that is beautifully supported by the strings. Grinnell’s bass echoes elements of the theme which Green reassumes. Green has a way of writing that—so help me—I have never witnessed before. He can reflect moods and create an Aristotelian catharsis like few can. He finds the fine line between melancholy and joy and that is as real to life as it gets. The rhythms of this piece are as fascinating as the melodies are.
Benji’s Song is for his son of the same name. It is splendidly elegiac, tender, and loving. It is far too short, like childhood.
I Used to Hate the Blues is nothing but the Blues. The song came out of a concert where everyone was charged with bringing in songs based around the idea of “Things I Love That I Used to Hate.” I Used to Hate the Blues came out that concert. The trio paint their Blues together and separately. This is a fun bit with tongue-in-cheek spins and turns that belie the title. These guys were born for the Blues.
Friday at the Thursday Club is again one of those melodically, emotionally fascinating pieces that has come to mark Danny Green’s compositions. Lyrical—that word again—and tight, the song is dazzling in its color and shade. Grinnell again gets a solid and flavored solo with which he mesmerizes the listener. Cantelm’s patterns are spot-on and the piano just takes the breath away. How does Green choose those chords? Seriously, the guy is brilliant.
The album is wrapped up with Serious Fun. Cantelm kicks it off with some jaunty rhythms. The bouncy Blues is clearly a hallmark of the trio and they just own it. Grinnell hops up the bass solo and the rattling rim shots of Cantelm followed by his own solo and then trio in unison to close is just fun…serious.
Danny Green Trio’s Altered Narratives is one of the most intriguing, evocative, intelligent, creative, and haunting albums I have ever heard. Ever. The compositions are so gripping, the artistry is so overwhelming, and the effect so staggering that it firmly places this trio in the must-hear category. This is one of those very few albums that will keep a permanent spot on my CD shelf. If the album alters anything, it is the narrative of what is possible in a Jazz trio.
See review at The Jazz Owl