I’ve returned to Fly’s last album, The Sky & Country (ECM, 2009), more than any other jazz title in the time since its release. Back then I gave it a respectful three star review for the Jazz Mann, so you could say it grew on me. As soon as The Year of the Snake snaps to life with the dazzling, zestful dexterity of the trio on “Festival Tune”, it strikes me as an even stronger album.
Its title track has a tough-minded solo by composer Mark Turner that affirms him as one of the most distinctive and persuasive tenor saxophonists around, but “Benj” is a better showcase for the trio, with all the ire and bluster of radical 60s ‘fire music’ burned away leaving just the cool, clear passion of Fly’s well-oiled, whip-smart vigour.
“Diorite” is perhaps the one to download. It begins slowly and with a lucidity that prefigures the trio’s deft shift into intricate interplay. Turner’s tenor takes a forthright lead that enables Ballard and Grenadier to trade extrapolations and break into exquisite, fleeting thumbnail solos.
On “Kingston” the tenor imposes a melody onto abstract snare and arco bass interplay. After three minutes an extra snap enlivens the rhythm and a passion voiced by the saxophone courses through the music and lifts it skyward.
The five parts of the exploratory “Western Lands” are scattered throughout the album like sections of a map or blueprint. Where part II is a mere fragment of arco bass and brushes on percussion, part III is a satisfying trio miniature. Part IV takes the album toward its resolution with lulling arco bass and a flutter of something ridged, perhaps, being drily bowed, creating just the right mood for Turner’s final, sorrowful saxophone soliloquy. “Western Lands part V” rounds an otherwise extremely lucid album off with bell tones and riffles of cymbal clicks piercing an auricular mist.
Fly’s elegance goes hand-in-hand with their sinuous authority. They are a powerful proposition live, and The Year of the Snake is another superb distillation of their sound that captures every nuance.
Mark Turner tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier double bass; Jeff Ballard – drums.