Bassist, cellist and composer Buell Neidlinger, born in 1936, came up by playing with Herbie Nichols, Oran "Hot Lips" Page, and Vic Dickenson, among others. With his apprenticeships done, Neidlinger started working with artists like Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Rex Stewart and for seven years with pianist Cecil Taylor. After a stint in Sir John Barbirolli's Houston Symphony, Neidlinger returned to New York in 1965 to work with composers like George Crumb and John Cage. Further work included time with the Berkshire Music Center Orchestra, one Igor Stravinsky's chamber ensembles, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A move to California in 1971 to teach at CalArts led to eventually joining the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and work in West Coast studios.
This recording finds Neidlinger's Quartet performing live at the Ravenna Jazz Festival in Italy in 1987 with soprano saxophonist and Thelonius Monk Scholar Steve Lacy sitting in. The program, 40 minutes long, contains five Monk compositions. The ensemble tears into the music with a ferociousness rarely found except in live performances. There is no taking-it-safe on these tracks; each and every moment is spent pushing the music to its limits.
Lacy is, as he always was playing the music of Monk before his untimely death in 2004, incredible. His soprano tone is solid and in-front of the mix. He rips up the rarely heard "Skippy," and makes so many twists and turns that "Epistrophy" is the highlight of the recording. Pianist Brenton Banks has also sadly passed away, but his rock solid playing lives on with this recording. While he is a fine soloist, he tears up "Criss Cross," it's his work comping, laying out the harmonic foundation for the saxophone soloists and spurring them on with jabbing rhythmic punctuations that shows him to be a true master. Drummer Billy Osborne rolls through the proceedings in a manner similar to Elvin Jones.
Tenor saxophonist Marty Krystall, perhaps inspired by Lacy's joining the band, leaves no prisoners. It's almost as if Krystall feels he's in competition with Lacy because of the wild abandon he brings to all of his solos. The hoots and honks he interjects into "Little Rootie Tootie" are not only thrilling, but their musical placement is perfection personified.
While Neidlinger takes a sweet solo on "Reflections," it is in his duet with Lacy on "Little Rootie Tootie," during Lacy's solo, that most aptly demonstrates how Neidlinger is just what his bio reflects, the consummate musician.
The problem with the recording is the sound quality. It's hard to know where the recording was taken from, maybe the sound board, but audio restorationist Mary Krystall had his hands full with this project. The end result has the sound in a compressed state with the drums coming across booming. Thankfully most jazz lovers are all about hearing what the musicians played, substituting in their heads the correct sounds of instruments learned from personally attending live concerts. Barring the sound problems, this is a great document for students of jazz demonstrating just how thrilling music can be when creative chances are taken.