Jake Wark – Tenor saxophone
Phil Haynes – Drums
Drew Gress – Bass
Tenor saxophonist Jake Wark has an expressive and poetic approach to improvisation
and a warm, reverberating tone. Both of these are quite evident on his debut Tremor.
Dedicated to his mentor, the late educator and trumpeter Paul Smoker, the album is a
series of six, intimate and wistful trio pieces and three shorter unaccompanied tenor
The tenor solos, titled simply “Three,” “Two” and “One,” are spread out
among the longer tracks and are darkly hued and eloquent. Wark lets loose long
melancholic notes that resonate against silent pauses with haunting effects.
The dramatic title tune opens with drummer Phil Haynes’ percussive manipulations of his
kit. Wark and bassist Drew Gress state the main theme in unison with longing expectant
lines. The result is an emotive and gripping lament-like performance with eerie
undertones. Haynes takes center stage with agility, producing a set of spontaneous and complex polyrhythms that are stimulating in their angularity. Wark’s fiery, honking monologue is intelligent and passionate while Gress delights with his elegant and lithe string work. The closing bars explore the same motifs as the head but with a brighter and more hopeful mood.
Perhaps Wark’s most lyrical and erudite moments appear on the expansive “Exit Music (For A Film).” Wark’s meandering saxophone winds around Haynes’ thrumming and thudding beats in intriguing patterns. Gress’ deep, mordant phrases add to the cinematic atmosphere. Wark’s wailing extemporization is tender, muscular and superbly elegiac.
The seamless synergy among the three musicians is quite remarkable. It perhaps stems from the fact that both Gress and Haynes collaborated with Smoker and that Wark was his student. The blues-tinged “Minor Yours” showcases this camaraderie best. Wark blows dense, evocative phrases over Haynes’ nimble drum work and splashing cymbals. Gress contributes hypnotic and melodious con arco drone. The graceful and charming three-way conversation is ardent and memorable.
Tremor is a provocative and delightful work that does not break new ground, but is still quite unique and personal. The superlative musicianship of the band members and the leader’s singular artistic approach make for a moving listening experience.
Reviewed by Hrayr Attarin