Joe Martin Quartet at Smalls 2/19/18 (by Jeff McGregor)

Joe Martin

PERSONNEL: Joe Martin (bass), Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Kevin Hays (piano), Nasheet Waits (drums)

SET 1: Prospecting, A World Beyond, Two Birds, Safe (all by Martin)

SET 2: Malinda, 5×3, Long Winter, Safe (all by Martin)

HIGHLIGHTS: The quartet dove deep into Martin’s folk-like melody “Malinda.”

Joe Martin’s quartet with Turner, Hays, and Waits has played a handful of gigs over the last five years, although the four musicians have frequently collaborated in other settings. A few days after their performance at Smalls, the quartet will go into the studio to record Martin’s first album as a leader since his 2009 recording Not By Chance. Martin spoke about the group saying,

I like the combination of musical personalities and what Mark, Kevin, and Nasheet each bring to the music. I have known all of them since the 90s, and I have worked with all of them in different bands over the years. I’m really thrilled to make music with them.

The first set opened with “Prospecting,” a medium swing tune with an asymmetrical phrase structure. Hays’s right hand beautifully stretched out with long, rich melodies buoyed by understated counterpoint from his left hand. Turner’s patiently paced solo was more rhythmically oriented and grew into a subtle sparring match with Waits who delivered a rolling series of accents and hits.

“A World Beyond” began with an unaccompanied introduction from Martin that reminded me of the clarity and economy of Charlie Haden. Hays and Waits eventually helped set up a loose, straight 4/4. Turner entered singing out Martin’s lyrical melody, which was underpinned by a counter line in the bass and piano. For the tenor solo that followed, the quartet kept the time, but left the form, allowing Turner to stretch with a dense and powerful improvisation. Turner handed off to Hays as the two intertwined in a series of trills. The pulse loosened as Hays continued to create a wash of sound by trilling through the piano. Out of this texture, he gradually began to draw out a melody, which he sang with raw intensity. Martin and Waits accompanied with a mixture of interjection and support. The three eventually returned to the time and form, and from there back to the melody.

Both sets closed with Martin’s uptempo swing “Safe.” The first section of the tune created a beautifully disjointed half-time feel by combining groups of four and five. The second section was an angular contrafact over “Just in Time.” The quartet’s second reading of the tune settled into the challenging form and expanded on their earlier version. The solos began over the changes with Hays and Turner loosely trading. Turner eventually stepped back. Hays dug in with dense, hard-swinging melodies and rich counterpoint between the hands. Hays solo ended in the half-time section where Turner reentered soulfully singing in the low register. Waits later blew over the same section, navigating the asymmetrical form with freedom and flexibility. The band then laid out for a loose, semi-walking solo from Martin. A final statement of the melody brought the quartet’s performance to an authoritative close.

— by Jeff McGregor