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Monday, May 3, 2021

Vincent Chancey, Wilber Morris & Warren Smith - The Spell - The Vincent Chancey Trio Live, 1987 (No Business, 2020) ****

 By Stef Gijssels

A review of this album was long due. The trio consists of Vincent Chancey on French horn, Wilber Morris on bass and Warren Smith on marimba and drums, a live recording in New York from October 1987. 

The French horn is an unwieldy and rare instrument in jazz, and definitely as a lead instrument. We have covered several albums on which Chancey performs (with Kowald, with Taylor Ho Bynum and at the Vision Festival 2019). Other French horn mentions on our blog are about Mark Taylor, Elena Kakaliagou, Hild Sofie Tafjord (Zeitkratzer), Lis Rubbard, Tom Varner and Chris Weddle. That's not much in 14 years, and it makes this album all the more interesting and memorable. 

Of the four tracks (two on each side) two are penned by Morris, one by Chancey and one by Smith, and with the exception of the one by Smith, the pace is slow and bluesy, the perfect tempo for the lead instrument to reach its full power of emotional depth and more supple changes of pitch. Apart from Chancey's beautiful horn, the other memorable aspect is Smith's marimba playing. He starts on drums on the long first track, but switches to marimba halfway and the combination with the French horn works really well. The short third track is led by Smith's drumming and offers a more free form uptempo work-out. 

Morris is the ideal partner in the trio, moving easily between pizzi and arco, often creating the solid backbone of the pieces. The infectious theme of his composition "Afro Amerin" will keep playing in your head long after the album is finished. 

On the downside, the 'live' effect has been edited out with no applause at all, and second, the quality of the recording is not excellent, leading to a quite remote sound. But I guess that was a decision the label had to make, and we can only be extremely grateful that No Business did release this music. I'd rather listen to this great music with suboptimal sound quality than to have missed it altogether. 

A unique and compelling album.