Kolker's cork

Adam Kolker’s Flag Day (on the Sunnyside label) is a knotty pleasure. It may leave your head in a coil (take two tracks of hard bop to unwind), but ride with the twists while they’re winding; it’s a soft-toned heady trip. Adam Kolker, who plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, is known mainly as a sideman, and he doesn’t try to get out in front of his bandmates on this session—John Abercrombie on guitar, John Hebert on drums, and the irrepressible Paul Motian on drums. I promised when I started writing this blog that I wouldn’t dwell excessively on any individual musician, but Motian is such a giant, I could write about him every day and not be rightly charged with excess.

This is rather understated music. Kolker’s sound is reminiscent of Lee Konitz. It’s a bit “light;” you hear the air fluttering against the reed before it whooshes through the horn and comes out golden from the bell. The melodies are fairly simple, but they weave a jangly path; you have to follow them closely, like the curves on a slow drive along the Amalfi coast. Motian takes these lines and gives them edge and adventure without jarring the scenery. He dangles new rhythms on the hi-hat, adds new beats with the snare. Listen to “In or Out,” a basic blues, except that Motian slides on the cymbal at the end of a bar, extending the phrase, throwing the whole passage into suspense, then casually resolves it in a flash. John Hebert, who used to play bass for Andrew Hill and thus knows about messing with space and time, plays tag team with Motian, multiplying the possibilities. Abercrombie often plays the anchoring role that a bass usually holds down, strumming in unison or in counterpart, adding a twangy texture of mystery.

The sound quality, by engineer Jon Rosenberg, is superb. The first track begins with Kolker blowing solo; you think he’s with you in the room. When the other players come in, the illusion is snapped only slightly, but you still feel he’s taking you to their room.

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