Shades of Jade
Joe Lovano tenor saxophone
John Scofield guitar
Eliane Elias piano
Marc Johnson double-bass
Joey Baron drums
Alain Mallet organ
Recorded January and February 2004 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: Joe Ferla
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Elaine Elias
If you had heard only Marc Johnson’s ECM debut with his Bass Desires quartet, you might be forgiven in thinking that the bassist was an extroverted player by default. Yet, listening to his rounded commentaries on such albums as Rosslyn and Class Trip, it’s easy to see how this, his third leader date for the label, reveals in him a tender heart that holds beauty and integrity in highest esteem. Shades of Jade complements his fulsome sound with an even richer tapestry of carefully chosen bandmates, including the painterly and good-humored Joey Baron at the drums, tenorist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield, and, in her debut for the label, Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias (who also produces alongside Manfred Eicher). The result is something as timeless as the set’s opener, “Ton Sur Ton.” It is, along with the title track, co-composed by Johnson and Elias. Both rock a delicate balance of guitar and sax that is smooth, hip, and subtle. The composers, here and throughout, lay the ground in shaded Morse code. Baron splashes delicately around as Scofield and Lovano complete things, clinging leisurely like sunbeams on water’s surface.
With exception of the epilogue, Johnson and Elias individually compose the album’s remaining tunes. To his own, the bassist reaches back to his defining years will Bill Evans through an artful shuffling of touch and go. He is, for the most part, by his pen deferential, as both “Blue Nefertiti” and “Raise” put Scofield in the spotlight, dancing nimbly through the changes. The latter tune adds the organ of Alain Mallet for some flavor. Yet the highlight, of both subset and album, is his bass solo “Since You Asked.” Accompanied by a whisper of cymbals, it is an utterly personal dialogue between deep and deeper.
It is in the context of Elias’s writing that Johnson comes more overtly into his own. Whether through the deep circulation he provides in the trio setting of “Snow” or in the album’s ballad du jour, “All Yours,” he carves out prime singing space amid Elias’s flowing keys. For her part, the composer gets plenty of shine time in her denser moments, as in “Apareceu,” which calculates an even smoother ratio of bread to butter alongside Lovano’s champagne sparkle, and in the curtains of “In 30 Hours” that billow from the wind of a passing memory.
Shades ends with exactly that in the form of a haunting take on the Armenian folk song “Don’t Ask of Me” (a.k.a. Intz Mi Khntrir). Its echoes burn forlorn afterimages into the night. Droning, keening, dreaming. As if the music alone weren’t enough, the album is an engineering gem, managing to bring out inner warmth while retaining all the immediacy of a live set. And in the end, is not immediacy what jazz is all about?