Renewal onefinalnote.com review
Back in 1996 soprano saxophonist Chris Kelsey, with running buddy Steve Swell, helped launch the CIMP recording legacy with a duet session that was a free jazz version of the profound comedy of Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot. Well, some eight years and a period of soul searching later, Kelsey returns to the Spirit Room with trombonist Swell.
Renewal is a less rigorously conceived session. Rather Kelsey tries to structure the date like a compressed nightclub show of three sets. He sets the scene with "A Romp in the Dark", venturing out solo as if he were whistling in the dark. One by one the other members of the quartet join him: Francois Grillot stalks him on bass, Swell moans in the underbrush, and drummer Jay Rosen gives new meaning to the phrase "things that go bump in the night". When Kelsey and Swell take a break together, they sound like a couple of old New Orleans cats, even though their vocabulary is thoroughly contemporary.
Swell sits out the second track, "Charlie Parker's Last Will and Testament", a characteristic Kelsey title. This trio performance offers an unadulterated serving of the saxophonist. He plays with avian eloquence, full of chirps and clucks. The lines twist and unwind from head to head. "Reason Excluded" opens Kelsey's hypothetical second set, a cover-worthy line that swings out joyously. With Grillot planting four to the bar and Rosen riding his cymbals, Swell takes a strong spot, smacking out base hits and sliding across the base paths, demonstrating why he's as comfortable on a swing date as he is in avant-garde settings. "Enough/No Tell" features an extended duet between Kelsey and Swell that evokes that early CIMP session. Their notes bump and grind and dance around each other. That leads into "No Tell", a piece that seems to have calypso ringing in its ear.
The session ends with the lighthearted "E and Me". Rosen leavens the track with chiming cymbal work, the occasional poing! of a bell and the steady clip-clop of his hi-hat. It's the kind of happy tune that, in a live performance, sends the audience home whistling in the dark.