It happens more often lately that I have a "WOW" reaction to a release by someone I've never heard before. The unknowns come in two sizes--a young player trained by one of the increasing number of terrific jazz schools, or a veteran musician who doesn't tour and has seldom been recorded as a soloist. Marty Krystall fits the latter category. He was born in 1951, invites comparisons to the best tenors in jazz, and this is the first I've heard of him? Yup.
He's spent most of his career in LA, which probably has the most undiscovered wows of any city. They make a comfortable living as studio musicians, backing popular artists or making film and TV soundtracks. Actually, I have heard Marty Krystall. I just didn't know it. His hundreds of movie credits include X-Men, Forest Gump and The Mummy Returns.
On this release he plays tenor and, most unusually since it's even touchier than the notoriously cranky soprano clarinet, a bass clarinet. Krystall's tenor tone is strong and clear, with a touch of sweetness and a vibrato that are more typical of an alto. His clarinet tone is aggressively masculine. His technique is clean and rhythmically sure at any speed on either instrument. The less-cantankerous tenor is his choice on seven of ten tracks.
The "Theme from Gunsmoke" gets things off to a Western-tinged start. There's humor in the selection and playing, but the trio swings with an intense, hard edge reinforced by the austere vibe of the pianoless combination. Sinclair Lott adds texture and color rather than just keeping time. J.P. Maramba provides a solid harmonic foundation, has a brief solo, and then a more visible role on "We've Heard It All Before," his own tune. Its catchy melody goes to the clarinet closely shadowed by bowed, then plucked bass. Both Krystall and Lott solo over walking base which then strides alone for a moment before the melody returns. The comfortable medium tempo is appropriate to the song's title.
"Ben Addiction" by Ben Webster begins with a tribute to that Swing-Era master and stays there most of the way, but Krystall updates the tune with post-bop touches throughout.
Jaki Byard's quirky "Mrs. Parker of KC" gets a treatment reminiscent of the bass-clarinet surprise leaps and harmonic substitutions of Eric Dolphy. And if you knew how I feel about Dolphy, you'd know what a compliment that is. Krystall gains further status in my eyes by including Monk's "Ask Me Now." His tenor sounds like it's making playful love to the tune.
If you've only heard Mr. Krystall in "Return of the Mummy" and "Forest Gump," you really need to get this album. Highly recommended.