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Jason Palmer and Cedric Hanriot : City of Poets - City of Poets Rating: 4-5 out of 5 This is music that simultaneously manages to be both highly intelligent and highly exciting.

Jason Palmer & Cedric Hanriot

“City of Poets”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4687)

On 23rd September 2014 I witnessed a remarkable performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff by a stellar quintet co-led by the American trumpeter Jason Palmer and the French pianist Cedric Hanriot. Playing under the group name ‘City of Poets’ the band also included the celebrated American musicians Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) and Clarence Penn (drums) withWhirlwind label owner Michael Janisch completing the line up on both acoustic and electric bass. It was a truly memorable night at Dempsey’s with the club packed to the rafters and with a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement apparent throughout. My review of one of the greatest gigs ever seen at Dempsey’s is to be found elsewhere on this site. The quintet’s London show the night before at the Pizza Express Jazz Club had been captured on tape and I’m delighted to find that that this music has finally found its way onto disc.

“City of Poets” came about as the result of a Franco-American jazz exchange jointly organised by the French-American Cultural Exchange and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. On the face of it the concept behind the “City of Poets” project may seem a little dry and academic. Written in the main by Palmer and Hanriot it comprises of a suite inspired by “Hyperion Cantos”, the four novel science fiction series created by the American author Dan Simmons (born 1948). Simmons’ various characters lend their names to the titles of the individual movements which are presented as a series of ‘tales’. With its theme of pilgrimage Simmons’ work has been described as a “futuristic Canterbury Tales”.

Meanwhile the music is based around the “Seven Modes of Limited Transposition” created by the French composer Oliver Messiaen (1908-92). Messiaen’s modes are defined by differently shifting degrees or intervals but with each piece being strictly symmetrical and sharing the same beginning and ending point. Palmer and Hanriot structured their melodies around these frameworks while leaving plenty of room for their bandmates, and particularly star soloist McCaslin, to express themselves. As I observed at the time of the Cardiff show;
“There was nothing stilted or stuffy about the playing and some of the soloing was positively incandescent”.

True to the spirit of jazz the quintet don’t perform Messiaen’s modes in strict numerical order and in any case the sequencing on the CD is different again to the Cardiff show. The album begins with Palmer’s “The Priest’s Tale (Mode II)” which is introduced by Penn at the drums and features Janisch on electric bass, his propulsive grooves acting as the launching pad for the bright, punchy interplay between the horns and the subsequent epic solo from McCaslin that begins with tentative probing but quickly escalates to full throated, full on, but always fluent, improvising. The saxophonist is a world class soloist both with his own small groups and with Maria Schneider’s celebrated Jazz oOchestra and he has recently come to the attention of rock audiences thanks to his prominent role on the final David Bowie album “Black Star”.

Also by Palmer “The Soldier’s Tale (Mode IV)” has a more relaxed, gently swinging feel with Janisch back on acoustic bass and working in conjunction with Penn’s brushes to support Hanriot’s elegant but consistently imaginative piano solo. Palmer also impresses with some lithe and inventive trumpeting that sees him soaring up into the instrument’s upper registers to the obvious delight of the London audience.

The CD actually lists nine tracks with two of the items being solo instrumental introductions to lengthier pieces. “The Poet’s Tale (intro)” is a brilliantly controlled solo trumpet episode from Palmer that showcases his virtuosity and fluency in a highly musical fashion, exploring a variety of trumpet styles without ever resorting to mere ‘flash’.

“The Poet’s Tale” itself – Mode V – is another Palmer composition with a bright but tricky theme that allows for some vivid ensemble playing as well as providing the jumping off point for another marathon McCaslin tenor solo, the man’s imagination seems to know no bounds. He’s superbly supported by Hanriot’s intelligent chording and the busily inventive bass and drum work of Janisch and Penn, the latter’s contribution incorporating a thrilling dialogue with Hanriot on piano. Penn is also brilliantly supportive of Palmer’s vivacious and iridescent trumpet solo.

Hanriot’s “The Scholar’s Tale (Mode III)” calms things down again with the composer’s gently atmospheric solo piano introduction leading to a languid composition that is arguably more obviously based on classical forms than anything else in the set. Palmer contributes a coolly elegant trumpet solo that still pushes ingeniously into the instrument’s upper registers. Meanwhile Janisch delivers an electric bass solo that makes inventive and effective use of the various FX available to him to give an appropriately ‘sci-fi’ feel to the piece. Hanriot then takes over again for a final solo that combines his earlier atmospherics with a flowing lyricism.

“The Detectives Tale (intro)” is an episode of improvised double bass that gives Janisch his sole writing credit on the album (he also acts as the record’s producer). The shimmer of Penn’s cymbals leads into “The Detective’s Tale” itself (Messiaen’s Mode VII). Again it’s Hanriot who leads off the solos, this time in a much more exuberant frame of mind as he dazzles the audience at the Pizza with his virtuosity. There’s some terrific interplay between Palmer and McCaslin, energetically shadowed by Penn and Janisch, garrulous but invigorating, before the piece resolves itself with a more considered restatement of the theme. 
       
Written by Hanriot “The Consul’s Tale (Mode VI)” represents a gentler side of the band with the airy theme acting as the vehicle for a gently exploratory solo from McCaslin that nevertheless can’t help incorporating something of his trademark intensity. Palmer’s solo begins in ruminative fashion, building in intensity as he gradually develops his ideas but the piece as a whole ends rather abruptly.

The album closes with Messiaen’s Mode I, here titled “The Shrike”, a Simmons character described in the album liner notes as “mysterious four armed, semi-organic creature”. Opening with a fanfare of squalling horns followed by a dramatic solo drum passage from the excellent Penn this is one of the most robust and forceful pieces on the album as its bop like theme eventually emerges and acts as the springboard for a vibrantly expansive trumpet solo from Palmer which showcases his peerless technique to great effect to the delight of the Pizza audience. McCaslin and Hanriot follow with a fiery and vivacious exchange of ideas. The support and encouragement offered by Janisch and Penn is exceptional, the pair form a formidable rhythm team and their playing is a constant source of joy throughout the album.

Honed on the road in the US, the UK and France the music to be heard on “City of Poets” is rich, fresh and vibrant and the standard of the playing exceptional, with regard to both the ensemble passages and the many blazing solos. It’s to the credit of Palmer and Hanriot, with a little help from Messiaen, that they’ve created such a sturdy framework for the soloists to improvise around. This is music that simultaneously manages to be both highly intelligent and highly exciting.
All of the Whirlwind output is well worth hearing but for me this live recording is one of the jewels in the label’s crown.

Listening to this album it’s been great to recapture something of the excitement of that memorable night in Cardiff. But this London performance is an entity all of its own, the running order is different to Cardiff and cross referencing my review of the Dempsey’s gig I also notice that the order of the solos is different on many of the pieces. For me this just goes to prove what an exceptional and exciting genre of music jazz is, genuinely never the same way twice and with a surprise around every corner. “City of Poets”, the album, may be a snapshot of just one moment in time, but it’s a musical image that you’ll wish to look at and listen to time and time again. 

City of Poets

Jason Palmer and Cedric Hanriot : City of Poets

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

City of Poets

This is music that simultaneously manages to be both highly intelligent and highly exciting.

Jason Palmer & Cedric Hanriot

“City of Poets”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4687)

On 23rd September 2014 I witnessed a remarkable performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff by a stellar quintet co-led by the American trumpeter Jason Palmer and the French pianist Cedric Hanriot. Playing under the group name ‘City of Poets’ the band also included the celebrated American musicians Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) and Clarence Penn (drums) withWhirlwind label owner Michael Janisch completing the line up on both acoustic and electric bass. It was a truly memorable night at Dempsey’s with the club packed to the rafters and with a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement apparent throughout. My review of one of the greatest gigs ever seen at Dempsey’s is to be found elsewhere on this site. The quintet’s London show the night before at the Pizza Express Jazz Club had been captured on tape and I’m delighted to find that that this music has finally found its way onto disc.

“City of Poets” came about as the result of a Franco-American jazz exchange jointly organised by the French-American Cultural Exchange and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. On the face of it the concept behind the “City of Poets” project may seem a little dry and academic. Written in the main by Palmer and Hanriot it comprises of a suite inspired by “Hyperion Cantos”, the four novel science fiction series created by the American author Dan Simmons (born 1948). Simmons’ various characters lend their names to the titles of the individual movements which are presented as a series of ‘tales’. With its theme of pilgrimage Simmons’ work has been described as a “futuristic Canterbury Tales”.

Meanwhile the music is based around the “Seven Modes of Limited Transposition” created by the French composer Oliver Messiaen (1908-92). Messiaen’s modes are defined by differently shifting degrees or intervals but with each piece being strictly symmetrical and sharing the same beginning and ending point. Palmer and Hanriot structured their melodies around these frameworks while leaving plenty of room for their bandmates, and particularly star soloist McCaslin, to express themselves. As I observed at the time of the Cardiff show;
“There was nothing stilted or stuffy about the playing and some of the soloing was positively incandescent”.

True to the spirit of jazz the quintet don’t perform Messiaen’s modes in strict numerical order and in any case the sequencing on the CD is different again to the Cardiff show. The album begins with Palmer’s “The Priest’s Tale (Mode II)” which is introduced by Penn at the drums and features Janisch on electric bass, his propulsive grooves acting as the launching pad for the bright, punchy interplay between the horns and the subsequent epic solo from McCaslin that begins with tentative probing but quickly escalates to full throated, full on, but always fluent, improvising. The saxophonist is a world class soloist both with his own small groups and with Maria Schneider’s celebrated Jazz oOchestra and he has recently come to the attention of rock audiences thanks to his prominent role on the final David Bowie album “Black Star”.

Also by Palmer “The Soldier’s Tale (Mode IV)” has a more relaxed, gently swinging feel with Janisch back on acoustic bass and working in conjunction with Penn’s brushes to support Hanriot’s elegant but consistently imaginative piano solo. Palmer also impresses with some lithe and inventive trumpeting that sees him soaring up into the instrument’s upper registers to the obvious delight of the London audience.

The CD actually lists nine tracks with two of the items being solo instrumental introductions to lengthier pieces. “The Poet’s Tale (intro)” is a brilliantly controlled solo trumpet episode from Palmer that showcases his virtuosity and fluency in a highly musical fashion, exploring a variety of trumpet styles without ever resorting to mere ‘flash’.

“The Poet’s Tale” itself – Mode V – is another Palmer composition with a bright but tricky theme that allows for some vivid ensemble playing as well as providing the jumping off point for another marathon McCaslin tenor solo, the man’s imagination seems to know no bounds. He’s superbly supported by Hanriot’s intelligent chording and the busily inventive bass and drum work of Janisch and Penn, the latter’s contribution incorporating a thrilling dialogue with Hanriot on piano. Penn is also brilliantly supportive of Palmer’s vivacious and iridescent trumpet solo.

Hanriot’s “The Scholar’s Tale (Mode III)” calms things down again with the composer’s gently atmospheric solo piano introduction leading to a languid composition that is arguably more obviously based on classical forms than anything else in the set. Palmer contributes a coolly elegant trumpet solo that still pushes ingeniously into the instrument’s upper registers. Meanwhile Janisch delivers an electric bass solo that makes inventive and effective use of the various FX available to him to give an appropriately ‘sci-fi’ feel to the piece. Hanriot then takes over again for a final solo that combines his earlier atmospherics with a flowing lyricism.

“The Detectives Tale (intro)” is an episode of improvised double bass that gives Janisch his sole writing credit on the album (he also acts as the record’s producer). The shimmer of Penn’s cymbals leads into “The Detective’s Tale” itself (Messiaen’s Mode VII). Again it’s Hanriot who leads off the solos, this time in a much more exuberant frame of mind as he dazzles the audience at the Pizza with his virtuosity. There’s some terrific interplay between Palmer and McCaslin, energetically shadowed by Penn and Janisch, garrulous but invigorating, before the piece resolves itself with a more considered restatement of the theme. 
       
Written by Hanriot “The Consul’s Tale (Mode VI)” represents a gentler side of the band with the airy theme acting as the vehicle for a gently exploratory solo from McCaslin that nevertheless can’t help incorporating something of his trademark intensity. Palmer’s solo begins in ruminative fashion, building in intensity as he gradually develops his ideas but the piece as a whole ends rather abruptly.

The album closes with Messiaen’s Mode I, here titled “The Shrike”, a Simmons character described in the album liner notes as “mysterious four armed, semi-organic creature”. Opening with a fanfare of squalling horns followed by a dramatic solo drum passage from the excellent Penn this is one of the most robust and forceful pieces on the album as its bop like theme eventually emerges and acts as the springboard for a vibrantly expansive trumpet solo from Palmer which showcases his peerless technique to great effect to the delight of the Pizza audience. McCaslin and Hanriot follow with a fiery and vivacious exchange of ideas. The support and encouragement offered by Janisch and Penn is exceptional, the pair form a formidable rhythm team and their playing is a constant source of joy throughout the album.

Honed on the road in the US, the UK and France the music to be heard on “City of Poets” is rich, fresh and vibrant and the standard of the playing exceptional, with regard to both the ensemble passages and the many blazing solos. It’s to the credit of Palmer and Hanriot, with a little help from Messiaen, that they’ve created such a sturdy framework for the soloists to improvise around. This is music that simultaneously manages to be both highly intelligent and highly exciting.
All of the Whirlwind output is well worth hearing but for me this live recording is one of the jewels in the label’s crown.

Listening to this album it’s been great to recapture something of the excitement of that memorable night in Cardiff. But this London performance is an entity all of its own, the running order is different to Cardiff and cross referencing my review of the Dempsey’s gig I also notice that the order of the solos is different on many of the pieces. For me this just goes to prove what an exceptional and exciting genre of music jazz is, genuinely never the same way twice and with a surprise around every corner. “City of Poets”, the album, may be a snapshot of just one moment in time, but it’s a musical image that you’ll wish to look at and listen to time and time again. 


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