Thirty years ago today, as Boston’s raucous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations approached last call, two men wearing police uniforms entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with 13 works by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer and others. With a value exceeding $500 million, the daring theft is probably the largest property crime in U.S. history, and remains unsolved.
Now, Boston-based trumpeter Jason Palmer has taken this cool story as the unlikely inspiration for The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella, an effervescent new double-CD set for Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts label available today.
You might call it a jazz version of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” though, unlike Mussorgsky, Palmer, who moved to Boston in 1997 to attend the New England Conservatory, has never seen any of the works that inspired his 12 compositions (two of Degas’ sketches were combined into a single composition).
It’s a work bristling with lines of pinpoint accuracy, snaky unison themes and thought-provoking soloing from the front line of Palmer, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and vibraphonist Joel Ross. What really stands out, though, is the way that bassist Edward Perez and the almost absurdly musical drummer Kendrick Scott hustle you through the Gardner’s Renaissance-revival halls. They’re busy, but they leave plenty of elbow room for the soloists to stretch out.
And they do; the shortest track of the 135-minute program clocks in a two ticks under 8 minutes. So, this is very much a blowing session, though Palmer keeps things interesting through various strategies. He’ll mix meters within the same composition, as in the tumbling “Chez Tortoni” (after Manet), one of several pieces that feature chase choruses that call forth soloistic bravura, albeit of the most thoughtful sort. His heads have a uniformly brainy shapeliness, even when he changes things up by sometimes making them unison, sometimes harmonized with a stroke of West Coast-y counterpoint added for good measure.
You’d expect nothing less from the pairing of Palmer and Turner, two of the most punctilious composer/improvisors on the scene. The leader is the kind of trumpet player who enters the upper register only when he has a point to make, as he does on the now-he-dips, now-he-soars “A French Imperial Eagle Finial.” He paints his solos with short, precise musical brushwork, a brassy Fragonard.
Turner is similarly scrupulous, though he works in longer lines that are unsurprisingly surprising. His command of both his instrument and his ideas is sovereign, even when he’s hurtling through the harmonic chutes and ladders of “Landscape with an Obelisk.”
Joel Ross is in fast company here, but he often threatens to steal the show as on the roiling chase choruses of “Christ in a Storm on the Lake of Galilee” (after Rembrandt) where the musical waves were anything but calmed. Ross chooses intervals that are often surprising (a Fauvist, maybe?) and his comping in the pianoless quartet is never pushy.
I can’t say enough about the supple and responsive rhythm team of Perez and Scott who are up for every challenge, as on the opening “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” (after Rembrandt). As Palmer takes apart and reassembles his stop-start melody, Scott takes up the challenge with a subtle application of heat and washes of cymbal color.
It all makes for a stimulating day of phantom museum-going, and at $15 for a download, it costs approximately .000003 percent of the estimated value of the stolen artwork. With museums closed, it’s an incredible bargain and one that you should take advantage of immediately when your purchase can do the most good for artists who could really use the support.
Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella
(Giant Step Arts)
Jason Palmer – trumpet, compositions
Mark Turner – tenor saxophone
Joel Ross – vibraphone
Edward Perez – bass
Kendrick Scott – drums