Tag Archives: James Zollar

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – FROG LEG LOGIC (CF 242)
As a longtime Ehrlich freak, I was knocked out by the debut recording from this fine, Hemphill-inspired group. On Frog Leg Logic, Ehrlich is back along with trumpeter James Zollar, both in slashing form here. But there’s a change in the cello and drum chair, from Erik Friedlander and Pheeroan akLaff to Hank Roberts and Michael Sarin. The bustle and swagger of the title track opens this disc in righteous fashion, with cracking percussion the fuel to the multiple lines that whip around. Ehrlich’s always got a heart-rending lyrical tale to tell, as with the superb reading of “Ballade” here (kudos to Zollar for nailing the harmonic / emotional interface so brightly and vividly). And when it opens up into a bubbly, mid-tempo funk it kills. Atop the supple groove, there are tasty bent notes from both horns, digging into the space between the beats in ways both raunchy and elegant. Roberts is key to these grooving sections, by the way, and to the whole disc. His deep, soulful melancholy combines with a percolating funk and occasional flurries of noise, and he can totally carry an unaccompanied spot. His countrified sound opens “Solace”, a longtime Ehrlich fave here given a spare arrangement that emphasizes the brass and the rattling timbre Sarin contributes (with Ehrlich contrasting gracefully on flute). At a tight 50 minutes, this disc has the logic and pacing of a live set. And the band has even more range here than on their debut, taking in styles as far-flung as the tart, slightly keening alto / cello duet “My Song” and the vaguely ominous “Walk Along the Way”, with low tuned drums, grunting bridgework from Roberts, and all manner of growls and animal sounds. But at the end of the day, it’s the groove pieces that get me, like the bright bounce of “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards” and the funky “The Gravedigger’s Respite”. More, please.


Point of Departure review by Ed Hazell

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet  – Frog Leg Logic  (CF 242)
Marty Ehrlich has long been one of the premiere songbirds of new music. He writes strong melodies and his best solos have the lyrical flow of song, his tone the shine and vibrato of the human voice. His new CD, with a revamped Rites Quartet – Ehrlich and trumpeter James Zollar are joined by cellist Hank Roberts, and drummer Michael Sarin – is a vibrant and tuneful example of his art.

The band’s instrumentation begs comparison to groups led by the late Julius Hemphill, an early mentor of Ehrlich’s. As Ehrlich matured as an artist, so did his relationship with Hemphill; Ehrlich was a sideman and peer in Hemphill’s big band and his final working ensemble, the Julius Hemphill Sextet. He has continued to explore his compositional legacy through his leadership of the Sextet. Ehrlich has certainly absorbed and personalized some of Hemphill’s techniques, which is especially evident in the funky cello vamps that undergird “Ballade” and “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards.” The resemblances, while worth mentioning, are hardly the full story and Ehrlich is securely his own man throughout.

He certainly solos in his own voice. On “Ballade” his every phrase is big and bold and played for all it’s worth and Ehrlich’s relationship to what came before him is clear, even when it strikes you at first as surprising. Perhaps that song-full quality in his soloing is closest in spirit (although not in form) to Johnny Hodges. His remarkably cohesive flute solo on “Solace” hangs together like a well crafted short story, with every detail supporting the narrative and deepening its emotional impact. Even his solo on the short, agitated “Walk Along the Way,” with its short nervous phrases built from wide intervals, menacing growls, and irregular silences, while seemingly fractured and jumbled, betrays the essential storytelling quality of his improvising. He is player of wide emotional range, as well. In its slow but purposeful unfolding, “My Song,” a duet with cellist Roberts, displays unforced lyricism, autumnal melancholy, and serenity. “Gravedigger’s Respite” capers along with a joyfulness that buries not the dead, but death itself.

Zollar makes an excellent foil for Ehrlich. There’s a dark undertow in his tone that nicely counterbalances Ehrlich’s brightness – he’s a master colorist. On “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards,” he busts his notes apart into growls, crimps their edges with a half-valve squeeze, or hammers them out into broad, bronzy smears. The constant play with texture and color, as well as phrase length, gives the solo a jumpy, charged, percussive quality. He also uses his command of a wide spectrum of timbre to create call and response between registers, and between sounds and lines in his solo on “Solace.”

Roberts and Sarin function as both rhythm section and lead voices as called for by the situation. They keep the music varied, but uncluttered, letting hints and implications of the beat carry the tunes forward just as often as they nail a groove. The open group sound, the interplay of melody and color, the emotional commitment and intellectual engagement of the band make this one of Ehrlich’s finest albums.

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Un inizio dolce e soave, leggermente bucolico e cameristico, fa presagire paesaggi sonori celestiali e meditativi. Inaspettatamente al minuto uno e quarantadue irrompe il violoncello pizzicato di Hank Roberts che dà il via ad un blues torrido, cadenzato e sensuale. Sembra di sentirlo addosso il caldo umido del Delta, i profumi e gli odori intensi della natura, lo scorrere lento e indolente del grande fiume, il contralto di Marty Ehrlich voce di un lamento che si fa invocazione e poi preghiera. Improvvise accelerazioni qua e là, la tromba di James Zollar che nasce come un gorgoglio e traghetta il New Orleans sound sulle sponde scarne care a Bill Dixon, la batteria, al solito sensibile, di Michael Sarin , la chiusura con il ritorno alle origini. Sono i dieci minuti abbondanti di “Ballade,” una delle cose più emozionanti ascoltate negli ultimi tempi, la perla di Frog Leg Logic firmato Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet.

Che è disco compatto, profondo, ispirato, godibile dal primo all’ultimo minuto, con altre frecce al proprio arco come il free bop della title track, il funky obliquo e armolodico di “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards,” lo scoppiettante zigzagare del conclusivo “The Gravedigger’s Respite”.

Se nel precedente Things Have Got to Change il Rites Quartet tributava più che un omaggio a Julius Hemphill (del quale Ehrlich è uno degli eredi musicali più rappresentativi) interpretando due brani mai incisi dal leggendario sassofonista di Fort Worth, in questo Frog Leg Logic compaiono solo composizioni originali.

Ed è Marty Ehrlich cento per cento. Anche se il benevolo spirito di Hemphill aleggia non solo nel citato “Ballade” ma in una sorta di visionarietà poco esplicita, sotterranea e trattenuta, ricca di sfumature ed aperta a molteplici interpretazioni. Dell’eccellenza dei musicisti si è detto ma piace sottolineare il ruolo svolto da Hank Roberts, vero e proprio battitore libero timbrico e ritmico dell’incisione. Come il violoncello di Abdul Wadud nel capolavoro Dogon A.D. (Arista Freedom – 1972). E il cerchio, forse, si chiude.

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
En estos tiempos de crisis, en que lo que lo único que no está en recesión es el uso de las tijeras en temas como la educación, discos como Frog Leg Logic dan sentido a la utilidad de las becas o ayudas académicas. En el caso de Marty Ehrlich, una beca del Hampshire College en Amherst sirvió en parte para reunir a cuatro músicos que no son precisamente nuevos en esto del jazz (Ehrlich, el baterista Michael Sarin, el chelista Hank Roberts y el trompetista -el más joven de todos ellos- James Zollar) y que pudiesen plasmar en CD las composiciones del saxofonista. El disco está lleno de buenas melodías, buenos arreglos, buenos solos, y con la versatilidad (e incluso las sorpresas) en todos esos ámbitos que hacen que un disco pase de ser bueno a excelente.

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
In their description of this album, Clean Feed draws the comparison between this group anchored by saxophonist Marty Ehrlich and cellist Hank Roberts to the great loft jazz music made between saxophonist Julius Hemphill and cellist Abdul Wadud during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The distinction is apt, and joining Ehrlich and Roberts on this date are James Zollar on trumpet and Michael Sarin on drums. While they aren’t quite as gritty as the likes of Hemphill’s recently re-released classic Dogon A.D., the group achieves a fine progressive jazz sound with Ehrlich and Zollar swirling and probing each other’s phrases, recalling records by Eric Dolphy and Booker Little or Chris Potter and Dave Douglas. “You Can Beat The Slanted Cards” and “Frog Leg Logic” make their case quite nicely with angular momentum moving with geometrical precision as the musicians improvise on the unusual themes. “Ballade” and “Solace” slow down the pace to an atmospheric and patient flow, Roberts and Sarin are particularly important in these performances as they are able to use subtle and gradual shifts in time and space to lay evolving textural shapes for the hornmen to react to, developing collective improvisations where everyone is interacting in real time. This is very solid and enjoyable modern jazz, steeped in the music that preceded them, but at same time making music that has a thoroughly modern sensibility.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
The premier of Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet, Things Have Got To Change (Clean Feed, 2009), featured the venerable multi-instrumentalist’s engaging originals bolstered by a handful of previously unrecorded pieces by his mentor, the late Julius Hemphill (1938-1995). Drawing on Hemphill’s seminal work in the St Louis-based Black Artists’ Group (BAG), and his innovative writing for the World Saxophone Quartet, Ehrlich has proven to be one of the legendary saxophonist’s most ardent devotees, leading Hemphill’s self-titled saxophone sextet after his passing.

Named after a phrase culled from a poem by James Marshal—founder of the St. Louis-based Human Arts Ensemble (with whom Ehrlich made his recording debut in 1973)—Frog Leg Logic continues to expand upon Hemphill’s storied legacy, while offering pertinent examples of the leader’s own brand of robust lyricism. The personnel of Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet has changed since its first album; Ehrlich and trumpeter James Zollar are joined by veteran cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Michael Sarin, in place of Erik Friedlander and Pheeroan AkLaff, respectively. Ehrlich’s commitment to this unconventional instrumental lineup is no coincidence. The Quartet not only mirrors the instrumentation featured on Hemphill’s 1972 masterpiece, Dogon A.D. (Mbari), but takes its name from the record’s thorny second tune (“Rites”). Ehrlich works subtle variations from this unique formula, conceiving brilliantly contrasting textures between muted brass, diaphanous reeds, sinewy strings and scintillating percussion that transcend obsequious imitation.

Bristling with energy, the session opens with the title track and closes with “The Gravedigger’s Respite,” bracing, hard bop-inflected swingers that highlight the quartet’s adroit, muscular interplay—an aspect further emphasized in the circuitous melody of “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards,” which exudes a similarly jubilant swing, hemmed by Roberts’ elastic pizzicato and Sarin’s taut, in-the-pocket grooves. Despite the ebullience of these rousing numbers, the majority of the date largely eschews the funky ardor of the Quartet’s debut, reveling instead in a state of bluesy introspection. “Solace” transposes impulsive energy into a sophisticated, chamber-like atmosphere, dominated by Ehrlich’s pastoral flute and Zollar’s muted horn.

“Walk Along the Way” and “My Song” weave balladic understatement into expressionistic tone poems, showcasing the group’s ability to sustain a mood, which is revealed in the set’s conceptual centerpiece, “Ballade.” Unfolding episodically, the blues-tinged lament vacillates through time and tempo shifts with cagey precision, modulating from smoldering testimonial fervor to brisk post-bop angularity, recalling the iconic title cut of Dogon A.D. in sound and spirit. Throughout the soulful meditation, Ehrlich’s plangent cadences and Zollar’s expressive, plunger-muted vocalizations find earthy concordance in Roberts’ percolating fretwork and Sarin’s unassuming accents.

Released just after International Phonograph Inc.’s acclaimed reissue of Dogon A.D., Frog Leg Logic presents a forward-thinking but reverential variation on an established model, one that not only proves the resilience of Hemphill’s visionary concepts, but Ehrlich’s merit as a singular composer and improviser of note.

Radioville airplay and review by Lloyd Sachs

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
In this week’s two-minute album review on WDCB, I enthuse over the second album by Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet.

For the hearing impaired, radio-resistant, iPad-addicted, sound-proofed, ear-resting and earwax-removing, here’s the text of the review: Hi, I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. Has any great musician ever had a better executor to carry out his artistic will and testament than the late Julius Hemphill has in Marty Ehrlich? After acting as music director of the sextet Hemphill formed after leaving the World Saxophone Quartet, Ehrlich kept the band going following Hemphill’s death in 1995. He has continued to honor his mentor’s legacy with the Rites Quartet, which just released its second album, Frog Leg Logic, on Lisbon’s excellent Clean Feed label.   Named after a tune on Hemphill’s recently reissued 1972 masterwork “Dogon A.D.,” the Rites Quartet uses the same distinctive format as that album, with Ehrlich on saxophone or flute, longtime crony James Zollar on trumpet, Hank Roberts on cello and Michael Sarin on drums. Having covered Hemphill tunes including the title cut of “Dogon A.D.” on its terrific 2009 album, Things Have Got to Change, the band goes with all original material on the new one. But Hemphill’s presence still looms large, in the lustrous harmonies, hard grooves and bountiful spirit of the music.   Actually, Frog Leg Logic is a bit less funk-driven than its predecessor, which featured Erik Friedlander and Pheeroan akLaff on cello and drums. After opening in rousing fashion with orchestral effects and charged solos, the album settles into a reflective, inner-driven mode. But fueled by Roberts’ big, bruising notes on cello, Zollar’s potent warbles and plunger-muted cries and Ehrlich’s sharply melodic attack on alto, a band like this can’t stay down long.   The album is another high point in Ehrlich’s career, which has had many of them, in settings ranging from his Dark Woods Ensemble to duos with pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Myra Melford. As a companion piece to the Hemphill reissue and on its own, it’s exhilarating stuff. With a two-minute review of Frog Leg Logic by Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet, I’m Lloyd Sachs.