As We Speak

Mark Egan

Wavetone, 2006

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Mark Egan is not afraid to pay tribute to the masters of jazz on this ambitious double-CD set, but he stakes his own territory as one of the best jazz bassists working today.

Yes, Egan has played with Sting and David Sanborn, but that doesn't diminish his credibility as a member of the Pat Metheny Group or as a bandleader. Across As We Speak, Egan and his two bandmates create a musical synthesis that is at turns moving, explosive and relaxing. It's everything a contemporary jazz disc should be.

The disc is Egan's first in five years; this time around, he has recruited John Abercrombie on guitar and Danny Gottlieb on drums. Which sounds like a power trio, but Cream was never this intimate. The three work as one, never overshadowing the other and giving each guy a chance to lead; it's hard to tell which one the disc should be named after. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

References to jazz masters of old abound, both in composition and name. "Plane To The Trane" recalls Coltrane's watershed Giant Steps LP and "Mississippi Nights" brings back thoughts of Charles Mingus with a hint of blues flavor, perfect for a smoky night at the bar or in front of the fire. On the other hand, "Time Out" does not recall Dave Brubeck's album of the same name but goes for the musical throat, and Abercrombie's lightning-quick guitar leads nearly race with Gottlieb's drums to the end. How Egan keeps up is a mystery.

The playful "Next Left" is another brief highlight, as is the evocative "Tone Poem For My Father" and the beautiful "Your Sweet Way," which is dedicated to Egan's wife. But the best moment is "Vanishing Point," which comes early on the first disc and is one of the finer contemporary jazz pieces of the last few years. That's not hyperbole, actually. Abercrombie's gentle and moody notes contrast with Gottleib's cymbal-heavy percussion, while Egan weaves in and out with sinewy, high bass solos, each player getting louder and more insistent and finally fading away.

Would that the rest of the music was that good, but there are only so many variations Egan and co. find in the sound. "Dream Sequence" is not the moody piece it wants to be and "Alone Together" just drags, while "Three-Way Mirror" sounds less like a composition and more like a series of jams strung together -- although the swinging final two minutes are among the most enjoyable on the disc. And "Shade And Shadows" is just derivative of everything else here; at nine minutes, that's too long to sit through.

Egan's ambition is to be praised here, and his synthesis with the other musicians helps create a horn-free contemporary jazz experience that is usually worth the time. Condensed to one disc, this could have been compelling, but the inherent flaw of too much jazz is better than not enough, one could argue, and Egan makes a solid argument.

Rating: B

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