Review: PlaySPACE by Chris Greene
Now entering its fourteenth year, the Chris Greene Quartet—comprising Greene on tenor and soprano sax, original bandmates/members Marc Piane on double bass and Damian Espinosa on piano and keyboards, and Steve Corley on drums and percussion—recently released its newest project, titled PlaySPACE (Single Malt Recordings). The live album, recorded in January 2018 during a performance at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois, features six compositions: five original compositions that have appeared on some of their previous recordings as well as a stellar revamping of a classic Wayne Shorter tune. Though the album is near flawless from beginning to end, there are three stand-outs worth highlighting.
The recording opens with “Blues for Dr. Fear,” a sturdy, thigh-slapping blues tune that originally appeared on the group’s most recent studio recording Boundary Issues. Greene’s tenor carries the weight of the tune sounding at some points as if he’s tiptoeing with heavy feet throughout the melody, drawing a jolly caricature of his son’s alter ego, the ominous Dr. Fear, for the live audience and listener alike. There’s nothing ominous about the playing though. Greene is having a good time, like a proud dad telling a cute story about his kid to strangers, and the rest of the quartet intuitively know when and where to fill in the gaps. It’s one thing to know that an artist has written a song about his or her child, but it’s another thing and quite an experience to hear the joy in that artist’s playing as a result.
Also featured on Boundary Issues is “Thunder Snow,” a hard-bopping original composition that is sure to please. Right away, Greene’s playing on “Thunder Snow” feels familiar. Evoking the feeling one gets when listening to the likes of such tenor titans as “classic quartet” John Coltrane and Branford Marsalis, Greene establishes himself as more than just a musician. The ferocious intellect and technical prowess Greene demonstrates paired with a seemingly genuine openness to take listeners wherever the music leads him are what make his performance on “Thunder Snow” worth replaying. However, Greene’s performance was not the only high point here. Corley and Espinosa also deliver. Espinosa punctuates his solo with soft and sweet tremolos while he and Piane work together to root the music rhythmically. Corley, on the other hand, wastes no time on subtleties, allowing his solo to build in intensity from the first stroke to the last, and his explosive sound offers a nice balance to the rest of the music.
Before the quartet plays “Speak No Evil” by Wayne Shorter, the assumption is that Greene would use the opportunity to demonstrate to the audience exactly why he should be and (most likely) will be revered by saxophonists who come after him in the same way that legends such as Shorter are revered by saxophonists of Greene’s generation. However, listening to the track reveals a whole different truth. Instead of taking the moment for himself, Greene steps aside and allows his bandmates to shine, and Espinosa and Corley rise to the occasion.
Espinosa lays the groundwork with a brief yet highly flavored Latin groove, while Corley does the building. Once his solo begins, Corley is given free rein over the music, and he never looks back. What’s better is that no one seems to mind. Infusing the music with elements of rock and funk, Corley drives the music forward, while Greene, Piane, and Espinosa support him along the way. Their performances allow the recording to end on a high note.
What’s most beautiful about PlaySPACE is that who Greene is as a musician is on full display throughout the recording. He’s a purveyor moved by his love of jazz music and the many possibilities that exist within his instrument and the genre, he’s as open-minded as he is visionary, he’s a gifted instrumentalist and a generous band leader, he is the future, and he is very much right now. Having had the privilege of hearing all of the quartet’s previous recordings, I think it’s amazing to hear how the members of the group have progressed musically and how their connections among one another have become more synchronized since Corley joined in 2011. PlaySPACE is a solid recording fueled by solid performances by the quartet as a whole. The Chris Greene Quartet, ladies and gentlemen.
Tracks: "1. “Blues for Dr. Fear,” 2. “Thunder Snow,” 3. “Clean and Clear,” 4. “Three & Six,” 5. “The Crossover Appeal (Uno Mas),” 6. “Speak No Evil”