Chris Kelsey’s (b. 1961, Bangor, ME) last CIMP session was recorded in March 2005 and since that date, there has been the occasional gig and a solo recording of standards (CadenceJazz 1183) issued. Other than that, there is not, to my knowledge, too much to account about his musical life past what has been already documented in the notes of his previous CIMP sessions over the past 10 years. And this is the same trio he’s been working with for a number of years. All of which might suggest a sort of stasis to Chris’ life and that may or may not be accurate. But is it not true of his music and it is for that reason we scheduled this recording.
There is a focused agitation in Chris’ playing, an obsessive sense that suggests that he totally trusts where he’s set his course and little could inhibit his resolve. And in François Grillot (b. 1955, Burgundy, France) and Jay Rosen (b. 1961, Philadelphia, PA) he continues to find the copasetic support he demands and trusts. The other elements I have found since I began working with Chris in 1996 are a distinctive non-derivative tone/color in his sound which combines with a style of attack I associate more with tenor players; and a compositional ability that is both tight and expansive. I think the point I am trying to make—and listening should make it clear—is that this is a distinct artist creating distinct and powerful music.
To expand the base, John Carlson (b. 1959, Greencastle, IN) has been added to the mix. John is basically a musician’s musician and the praise and feedback I get about his musicianship is, across the board, unqualifiedly enthusiastic and, having recorded him a number of times (Bill Gagliardi, Free Range Rat, Charlie Kohlhase), I know him also to be an affable and good-humored individual. But most importantly Chris found him to be a perfect fit for his musical vision and demands. And I sense from Chris that John was rather unique in this fullfillment, or at least one of very few.
Listening to the afternoon warm-ups, it was clear to me the addition of John was going to have (or perhaps already had) a major effect on Chris’ music. My first reaction was “Oh, this is Kelsey Brass Music”—which of course is completely true, but this was of a very different and distinct color than, say, his work with trombonist Steve Swell. Although the sound check was not complete we broke for supper and regrouped later for its completion. The band was playing hot and I became concerned that this fine stuff was being lost in the sound checks, as energy levels do change and Chris was still suffering from intestinal pains developed the previous day.
At about 8:15 p.m. we finally hit and after a number of incomplete takes a re-composure was arrived at and the meat of the music, none the worse for seasoning, was served up (Heterophonous), first in the form of one of those classic insistent Kelsey solos followed by some tersely condensed trumpet work, an exciting bow interlude from François and triumphant tight underpinning and shadowing from Jay. The result—a good take.
Chris is very demanding and has a fine ear in real time listening and, in all the work I have done with him over the past 10 years, rarely has there been a need for any second takes. In fact, it only happens when I ask, as Chris most often will simply stop a take midway if he feels it is not up to his demands. The result is multiple incomplete takes but multiple complete takes are not common. Preparedness is always appreciated; editorial objectivity an added bonus. But a second take does occasionally happen, and one did occur on Fangle. I was perfectly happy with the first take but Chris wanted a stronger sound. He felt his reed was going out and with the reed change he was indeed more projecting and, as a result, a different color. John also suggested a greater energy in the second take. For me, both John’s and Chris’ solos on both takes were equal in interest, but a greater determination in Chris’ solo and a rhythmic goose from Jay and François in turn spurred Chris to dig in. That led into a propelling but spacious solo from Jay and a take which, while still structurally perfect, housed more perfect parts of a whole. And so it is Take 2 that you hear here.
By mid evening this session had fallen into a comfortable inventive groove. Chris was feeling much better, pies had appeared on the table, and a relaxed humor prevailed between the mounting of successful takes and wonderful music. In fact, before the night was over we had more than was needed. Even so, Chris wanted to get up in the morning and play out more of the music he had developed over the previous year and a half. This meant that I would then have to make choices from many fine moments to accommodate the finite length of one CD or hope there was enough exceptional material to justify a second CD. And certainly that alone (but also taking into account the limited exposure this distinct and talented artist has) would easily justify two CDs.
Chris had listed five or six compositions he still wanted to cover and the previous night had expressed a desire to do one “free” exposition. The next morning they opened with Charming and to me seemed to pick things up at the same level of energy and inspiration as the night before.
After 61715, a free improv made up of a nicely constructed series of connected duets, I asked Chris if he had any more compositions and John encouraged him to do Inside Pout. Chris seemed reluctant and unsure, but did it they did and it’s outstanding. That’s reserve power!
Things were as relaxed and congenial as any CIMP session—common traits to every session John Carlson has been a part of. By the time all was finished, we did indeed have two exemplary CDs of wonderful music, I didn’t have to choose nor eliminate any excellence, and it all confirmed why this artist should be documented. Welcome to
Chris Kelsey 2006.
Robert D. Rusch - August 15, 2006
Items that are referred to but do not appear on this recording can be found on CIMP 368.