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Anton Schwartz: Flash Mob

Cover art of saxophonist Anton Schwartz's new CD "Flash Mob"

“I like to write music that has an emotional arc,” says tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz about his new album Flash Mob. “It’s that, and let’s have a good time while playing it.”

Forthrightness is a virtue Schwartz and his bandmates embody on this album, which offers listeners great pleasure with its refreshingly direct approach to melody.

“There’s a whole lot of music out there that’s amazingly brilliant in its complexity, but fundamentally doesn’t grab me,” says Schwartz, “as much, and as deeply, as music that might seem ‘simpler.’”

The album’s freshness is born out of deep relationships – Schwartz has played for nearly thirty years in and around San Francisco with bassist John Shiflett, and with pianist Taylor Eigsti for fifteen  – and a dash of surprise: he met trumpeter Dominic Farinacci the night before their recording session at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, last May. They are joined by Bay Area drummer Lorca Hart on the recording.

“Dom was the X factor,” says Schwartz of the trumpeter, who he found through Eigsti. “He’s the player I was looking for, but hadn’t met yet.”

The pair create a seamless and powerful front line on songs such as Schwartz’s “Pangur Ban” and Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha,” which that trumpeter recorded with saxophonist Joe Henderson in 1963 for the album Page One.

“I was looking for someone who really puts out through the horn: he’s got that huge sound, but he’s inherently melodic, and there’s a precision to his thinking,” says Schwartz of Farinacci.

Those who love the hard bop chemistry of Dorham and Henderson will find much to admire on Flash Mob, which features nine originals as well as “La Mesha” and Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.”

“Dawn Song” is a beautiful dialogue between Schwartz and Eigsti, which the saxophonist wrote for his wedding to Dawn Hagen in 2007. He met Eigsti when he was teaching at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and the pianist – then fifteen – came for classes. A year later, Eigsti was in Schwartz’s band – without a driver’s license or keyboard of his own – and teaching at Stanford as well.

There’s an irreverence and spirit of fun which shines through on songs like  “Epistrophy,” which is recast here as a New Orleans second-line shuffle, and “Alleybird,” which was inspired, literally, by the two notes he heard a bird singing one night in an alley behind his Seattle home.

Throughout, Schwartz and his bandmates play with openness and honesty, creating melodies that linger in the ear, the way great pop songs do.

This is a lesson driven home by one of Schwartz's first saxophone mentors, Warne Marsh, who taught him that to have meaning, a melody or improvisation must come to life in a listener's ear before you analyze it.

“I don’t really know of an alternative,” he says. “I just want to play music that I would like to hear.” 

     - Tim WIlkins, WBGO digital content manager

Audio for this album is no longer available at RADAR. Visit iTunes and Amazon to preview and purchase.

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