Mark Turner: Return from the Stars (ECM 2684)

Mark Turner
Return from the Stars

Mark Turner tenor saxophone
Jason Palmer trumpet
Joe Martin double bass
Jonathan Pinson drums
Recorded November 2019 at Sear Sound Studio, New York
Engineer: Chris Allen
Mixed September 2021 at Studios La Buissonne
by Manfred Eicher and Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Production coordinator: Guido Gorna
Cover photo: Thomas Wunsch
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 25, 2022

Admirers who have traced the influences of Mark Turner will know of his interest in science fiction. More than the inspiration for an evocative title or two, the underlying ethos running through his work like dark matter in a timeslip could come from no other genre, articulated as it is in a language that feels as spatial as it does temporal. As Stanisław Lem wrote in Solaris: “We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors.” In the bell of Turner’s tenor saxophone, one indeed finds a mirror for scrutinizing our egos in melodic ways.

Return from the Stars puts Turner back on the ECM map, carrying over bassist Joe Martin from 2013’s Lathe of Heaven and adding drummer Jonathan Pinson and trumpeter Jason Palmer for eight originals. The lack of keyboard allows for two crucial things to happen. First, it opens the ears to Turner’s compositional prowess, graceful yet given to unexpected turns and shades of meaning. Second, it opens space in the recording and exchanges between the musicians. The resulting music, smooth without filling in every gap, invites listeners to ruminate and appreciate the inner workings at hand. Against a rhythm section digging its heels only when needed (and without ever overstating the issue), interplay between horns unfolds organically (Turner is always moving from one terrain to the next while Palmer seems to work his awl into the wood of his thinking, uncovering ever-deeper layers of meaning). Sitting among the evocative gems of “Bridgetown” and “Nigeria II,” tracks like “Terminus” and “Lincoln Heights” walk in places that have been lived in. Throughout, the writing is suggestive rather than declamatory. The titles of “It’s Not Alright With Me” and “Unacceptable” evoke a playful gray area between frustration and freedom from it. The blurring of such dichotomies is a sign of maturity: letting emotions speak for themselves rather than shouting in their place. In “Waste Land,” too, I get the feeling that these pieces are always growing and that we are privy to some of their prime phases.

(This review originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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