JONATHAN LORENTZ - Coming Home
by J Hunter
Of all the things to come to mind when trying to sum up saxman Jonathan Lorentz' sweetly subtle disc Coming Home, I never thought it would be one of the worst concert experiences of last summer.
It was the first day of the 2005 Freihofer's Jazz Festival, and the stage was inundated with Smooth Jazz
eh, excuse me, Contemporary Jazz stars like Rick Braun, Peter White, Richard Elliott and Jonathan Butler. They were billed as Jazz Attack, but because of their downright rabid insistence of proving they were LOUD and FUN and BOISTEROUS and THE MOST IMPORTANT THING HAPPENING, I will always remember them by the title I gave them: When Smooth Jazz Attacks!
My point is that if the music is good enough and the player is good enough, it's not necessary to wave flags, set off bombs, or jump up and down screaming, LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Just play! Play what you love, play what you feel, but just play! If you play it right, they will come. You don't need histrionics. Coming Home has a lot of things, but histrionics is not one of them.
Lorentz is out to intrigue from the first note, giving us an opening reminiscent of Acknowledgement from Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!). If you saw Ken Burns' Jazz, then you saw the film clip of early-morning New York City that Burns paired with Acknowledgement. That image stuck with me as Lorentz went from exploration to introspection with an understated version of Softly As In A Morning Sunrise. The best-known version of Softly, by the Modern Jazz Quartet, flies by like a commuter train roaring down the track; Lorentz' version pads across the room on little cat feet, taking its cue from the first word of the title. Lorentz surely blows a sturdy solo throughout, but it is never out of proportion with the established mood.
This consistency runs through this mix of originals and covers: Keep It Cool, Not Contained. The wistful opening solo of I Love You changes into a slinky samba as Lorentz works one solo idea and builds it into a story. On Stoic, Lorenz embodies the title, leaving the job of hinting what lies beneath to his supporting cast. His approach on the Jimmy Van Heusen classic Like Someone In Love is that of a guy sitting in an apartment window, musing on love past or present, having a conversation with himself with the saxophone as the medium.
Even though this is tenor sax, there's a fair bit of Gerry Mulligan uber-cool to Lorentz' playing that dovetails perfectly with the bass/drums trio matrix that makes up the lion's share of Coming Home. Sticking with this format is a brave decision, to my mind, as it takes the right combination of talent and material to pull off a trio format. The talent's there, to be sure. Along with Lorentz, there's drummer Tim Gilmore, the only other player who appears on all 10 tracks. Gilmore can drive the tunes forward or just sit back and fill, but regardless of the tune or the tempo, he and Lorentz share a musical language rooted in collaboration. Noah Jarrett is the bass player on the trio cuts, and he is tasty! Greg Loughman's bass work on the rest of the disc is quite fine, but there were places (particularly the bass solo on Stoic) where I wish Jarrett had also played the full date.
Four cuts have Lorentz and Gilmore paired with Loughman and pianist Joseph Deleault, who penned the crystalline title track. While the trio format works for the more intimate pieces, bringing Deleault's piano in as foil, soloist and (most importantly) colorist brought Lorentz' playing to a different level. It also showed the limitations of the trio, particularly on Good Bait. Lorentz and the trio give the Tadd Dameron standard the old college try, but they're clearly one instrument short.
This is great music by great players. But above all, Coming Home is what we all need at the end of the day: A place where you can sit down, kick your shoes off, and just be yourself. Clearly, Lorentz is nothing but himself on Coming Home, and that authenticity completes the experience.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.