The early 21st century has produced few more intelligent voices in contemporary jazz than saxophonist Mark Turner’s. A measured, yet emotionally evocative player, Turner has synthesized some of the structural improvisatory methods provided by Warne Marsh and Wayne Shorter and added language that’s entirely his own. SOLOS: The Jazz Sessions is an enlightening opportunity to hear Turner play unaccompanied as he talks (in the form of short “interviews”) about the theoretical components that he uses in building solos. Not surprisingly, Turner speaks with great clarity and insight about the nature of saxophone improvisation. But SOLOS is no dry piece of didacticism. His tenor playing is often moving and beautiful. Recorded particularly close, the listener hears every breath, every finger click; it’s impossible not to marvel at the range of control that Turner exhibits. “Velvet Underground” and “Berkeley Street” are good examples. Unhurriedly worked out, the saxophonist develops simple strands of thematic material – a scale here, an arpeggiated chord there, patterns played with one or two changing notes, each piece growing more complex, although never less transparent, as it goes. Turner also talks about his parents listening to Al Green and Stevie Wonder, suggesting that these were influences. “Beauty Mark” is as immaculately thought out as any Coltrane solo, but the playing is rhythmically more mathematical and more reserved. “TheBelmont” is a study in harmonics, with the tenor producing three and four note chords. It’s unusual to hear a saxophonist playing advanced harmonics in the pursuit of lyricism; prevailing perception typically links this approach to the more aggressive faction of the avant-garde. In a second interview, Turner talks about building a solo from one note, using it as a fulcrum off which chromatic intervals can be bounced.
The album concludes with the virtuosic “Murley’s in the House.” As with the other selections, Turner’s profound sense of architecture allows him to work convincingly without a band. And his breathtaking tone and total command through the tenor’s range elevates the performance to that of genuine artistry. SOLOS: The Jazz Sessions is work that should be required listening for all saxophonists. Its triumph is that it’s an equally compelling program for anyone else who may be interested in the current state of jazz improvisation.