Mike Tucker, “Collage”

A Young Lion To Be Heard

March, 2006

Living as I do in the shadows of the famed Berklee College of Music here in Boston, I wish to report on one of the many new talents emerging from Berklee’s hotbed of musical invention, where unheralded young artists are forging new directions and producing first rate recordings on their own labels. One of these emerging Berklee alums is saxophonist Mike Tucker, who on his recording, “Collage” [available at www.tuckerjazz.com] stands out as a young artist to be reckoned with in his clarity of voice and vision. Tucker and his young quartet forge an eclectic, soulful journey on Collage, taking their original tunes from bebop, calypso and blues foundations into new, unexplored territory, all recorded with articulate, up-front dynamics by Peter Kontrimas at PBS studio in Westwood, MA. On this recording, Kontrimas has done a superb job of placing the listener right in the thick of the musical action in this small recording space, capturing the spontaneity and great interplay between these young players. On many of the creative explorations here, Tucker and his bandmates state a theme and then polish and carve it, like a piece of glass thrown into the ocean, to create an exciting and invigorating musical feast. Like sea glass found on the beach, no two of these musical explorations are alike, thus making “Collage” the eclectic and fresh work that it is.

First, take a listen to Mambo, where we are cascading down a slippery solo by Tucker, backed by the great rim-hitting beat provided by drummer Lee Fish. The number takes on a stylish run at a swinging Calypso, with melodic and furious runs by pianist Leo Genovese as he explores bits and pieces of the original theme. We end up where we began, but with a totally fresh look on the wonderful theme, provided by the great improvisation of the performers. New Orleans is an ingenious concoction of New Orleans-style funk and jazz, overlain by a marching rhythm, again provided by Fish’s dynamic drum kit. We get the great colors of a marching band on parade down a Mardi Gras side street, with Tucker piercing the crowd with his sax rolls, off key honks, twists and thematic repeats as he strolls along.

Tucker's soloing throughout this disc is always new, fresh, and vibrant. On another up tempo cut, Hey Man Tenor Club, Tucker opens up with a searing combination of staccatos and long-held tenor notes. These eventually trickle down to allow Genovese to pick up the fragments of the melody on his piano and rebuild it through a creative mix of his own agile runs and chord statements. The slower ballads on this recording are also fascinating and alluring in the simplicity and beauty of their themes, combined with great creative improvisation to carve and polish them along the way. Standouts are Genovese’s intricate and delicate piano solo on the warm and breezy Kathy, and the beautiful turns of Tucker’s sax on Billy Drew’s Bird Lives. This is a stately ballad where Tucker soars with great agility and spirit into the higher registers of his instrument, creatively dipping down for lower register affects. The disc closes with the eloquent Mbira, where a lovely, flowing melody is stated and then explored by each member of the band, reminding me of sunshine reflecting on sea glass, in all of its angles and intricacies. Tucker uses great phrasing and spacing to fragment the theme on his solo, again drifting away softly to allow Genovese to linger pensively and pick up other angles of the theme on his keyboard. An articulate and plunging bass solo by Hogyu Hwang leads to a final crescendo where percussion, chimes, recorded human voices and Tucker’s soaring sax complete the weave of this imaginative tapestry.

Seek out “Collage” and enjoy and support the explorations of new artists, like Mike Tucker, who speak with a spirited, individual voice and create recordings of such excellent sound quality and engaging vision.

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