When Bronx-born jazz composer Paul Nash was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in 2003, he handled the news far better than most of us would have. “My life has been given sudden definition,” he wrote, “an end point that I can almost prepare for. At once frightening and magnificent.” Resolved to document the essential works of his 30-year career before he departed, Nash wasted no time in booking studio time with the Manhattan New Music Project, a collective featuring guitar avatar Vic Juris and New Paltz bassist Jay Anderson that Nash formed in 1990 to play his music. Jazz Cycles is the first of the two CDs of material that resulted from the urgent sessions.
What’s immediately striking about Nash’s work is how huge it sounds. Here the MNMP is merely a septet, but the leader’s classical-meets-jazz vision somehow yields a massive, inversely proportioned sound, one that recalls the much larger modern big bands of Gil Evans and Don Ellis. On “Night Flight,” Nash’s trademark widescreen flair comes through loud and clear via Grisha Alexiev’s cavernous drums and the high-drama section work of trumpeter Shane Endsley and reedsmen Tim Reis and Bruce Williamson. Darker drama ensues on “Strange Rife” thanks to Anderson’s low-down, slinky lines and the strangled screams of Juris and the brass.
Nash passed away in 2005, but with the music here he leaves one of jazz’s most riveting legacies. An epitaph writ large, as it were.
The Manhattan New Music Project will perform at Iridium in Manhattan on October 17. www.mnmp.org.