My listening this past week has been dominated by two aforementioned trumpet-tenor fronted discs,
Dave Douglas- Meaning and Mystery (Donnie McCaslin- tenor)
Kenny Wheeler- What Now? (Chris Potter- tenor)
I like both records; the Wheeler disc immensely, the Douglas album quite a bit. The playing on both is phenomenal, in different ways- the Douglas band has built a knowledgable, organic interplay among the members fitting a touring band of its calibur, and the Wheeler session sounds like what it is- four friends, but not bandmates, getting together and laying it all out on several of Wheeler's brilliant tunes. Casual elegance.
But what jumps out at me on both recordings is the tenor players, the way they play the notes. I remember how Brookmeyer, in lessons, used to complain about the "robotenor" phenomenon- every tenor player he hear all over the country had a predictable, post-Coltrane language, always energetic, rarely original. I don't entirely agree, but I know where he (and others) are coming from- Coltrane, and to some extent Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, cast a shadow so huge that only thirty years later is the tenor starting to emerge. (With apologies, I'm leaving the Evan Parker/European art scene approach out, only since its so far outside the mainstream, not because it's not relevant) However, one reason that I don't hear mentioned is that tenor players not only got tied up in Trane's harmonic language, they got caught up in his delivery. They imitated, I reckon unconsiouly, the way Trane (or Joe, or Getz, Sonny not so much) played his phrases, and distilled it to a formula almost as paralyzing as Giant Steps can be.
And hearing Chris and Donnie points out one way out they are keenly aware that there's more than one way to articulate the swing eight note. Their phrases pop, crackle and bubble over for a phrase, then roll like molasses in the next. Music is in some way rhetoric, and these two (actually, all the players here) are master speachmakers.