Giant Step Arts launches its Modern Masters and New Horizons series with the first-ever live album as a leader from tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Live at the Village Vanguard, out September 8, 2023, featured Turner with trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jonathan Pinson.
“[Mark Turner is] a premier saxophonist, conceptual thinker and bandleader who plays a visionary role on today’s rapidly evolving, ever-expanding jazz scene.” – Ed Enright, DownBeat
“Light of tone and phenomenally agile, the sound of Mark Turner’s tenor saxophone is so beguiling that I’d happily listen to him playing from a book of exercises.” – Dave Gelly, The Guardian
Mark Turner has cemented his place over the past three decades as one of the most acclaimed and influential tenor saxophonists of the modern era. Fellow saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has said, “I think Mark Turner is one of the most important players that has come along in the last 20 years, easily the most influential. He never seems to have any doubt about what he’s doing.” However, Turner has never released a live recording as a leader. On stage, with time to stretch out and the energizing presence of an audience, is the place where an artist like Turner can be heard in peak form. Turner chose as the venue the most storied and iconic room in jazz history. Live at the Village Vanguard, via the artist-centered nonprofit Giant Step Arts, adds Turner’s name to the legacy of jazz giants who have recorded on that hallowed stage.
“To some extent, playing at the Village Vanguard makes me feel that I’ve been accepted to the village where the masters began,” says Turner, who has returned regularly to the club since his debut there more than 20 years ago. “It’s a sensation of being part of something larger than myself, and that’s ultimately what I want out of playing music and playing jazz.”
On Live at the Village Vanguard Turner and his band of trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jonathan Pinson are able to explore the tunes at their most inspired, at times stretching them out to more than twice the length of the studio cuts. “There’s more fire and grit when this band plays live,” Turner says. “And maybe more romance. Working with these guys feels really good and intuitive, and it takes on a romantic sound as opposed to a more abstract approach.”
Turner weaves labyrinthine melodies mesmerizing in their unpredictability; in Palmer he has found an ideal frontline partner, as heard on their work on the trumpeter’s own Giant Step releases, Rhyme & Reason and The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella. Martin and Pinson are a masterful rhythm section whose sense of space is always on point.
The bulk of the material in this two hour-plus set was written expressly for this quartet, but Turner also draws from throughout his catalogue. The album closes with a new composition, the simmering “1946”.
The performance is beautifully captured by renowned photographer/engineer and Giant Step Arts founder Jimmy Katz, marking his first released recording from the Vanguard. “Everything that Mark plays is unique,” Katz says. “In his phrasing, he’s not playing anything that has been played before in the history of jazz. That’s true of all of his studio records, but that’s just one side of him. Live, especially in this context where the band is absolutely on fire, it’s something else entirely. It’s a magical two sets of music that reveal just how intense and powerful he is as a composer and soloist.”
Live at the Village Vanguard also serves as the first entry in Giant Step’s new series Modern Masters and New Horizons. Specially curated by Palmer and drummer Nasheet Waits, the series features thrilling original music by artists who have helped shape the modern jazz landscape along with rising voices sure to do the same for the next generation. Artists currently slated to contribute include Waits, saxophonists Ben Solomon, Neta Raanan and Michael Thomas, vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu, drummer Eric McPherson and bassist Edward Perez.