The Healer (Jazzhead HEAD192)
Anton Delecca Quartet
Review by John Hardaker
Tenor man, Anton Delecca – and his Quartet – has delivered a muscular and deeply felt album with their third, The Healer.
Checking US sax icon Ernie Watts earlier this year I was reminded of the lithe power of the tenor quartet, a power I have not heard as fully flowered locally, until The Healer.
The obvious comparisons with the daddy of all modern tenor quartets – the Coltrane group of the 60s – are straight-up realised on opener ‘The Ark’: a 7/4 winding desert path of Middle Eastern-flavoured melody. The band flexes and contracts around Delecca’s questing, searching solo. Luke Howard’s piano solo is a small masterpiece of texture – dig how he ends it with a murky slither into the deeper indigos of the lower piano register.
Howard’s playing across the album is dazzling. His Tyneresque intro to the sinewy ‘Icarus’ is wonderful: all ripples and questions and darkened windows. ‘Icarus’ also has a scratching, spitting duet between Delecca and drummer Daniel Farrugia; its energy is reminiscent of those Coltrane-Elvin Jones codas that made us all jump for joy.
But the Quartet is not all muscle, knuckle and sinew. ‘Hokusai Says’ is a lovely, translucent ballad that brings to mind the muted colours and perfect vignettes of the eponymous Japanese woodcut master. ‘Cycling’, though brisker, also shows the easy balance the four attain with each other – bassist Jonathan Zion’s playing here is superb, notably for what he doesn’t play; a skill that takes true sensibility to attain.
‘Hectic’ is hectic. Its melody a fevered montuno, ‘Hectic’s Latin momentum is headlong and headstrong with the band pushing Delecca’s solo into some snapping and biting areas. Across The Healer, Anton Delecca gives nothing less than his whole soul to the material – his tone a nice hard Hard Bop shout and/or moan. His compositions, also, are great jazz pieces – whether beds for blowing or reasons for reflection.
With material this strong, I wonder at the inclusion of the two standards, ‘Love for Sale’ and ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. Both beautiful tunes (if a little obvious) and the band does have fun with them. But The Healer sags slightly here, if only because Delecca’s (and Jon Zion’s dreamlike ‘Sahadi’s’) original material is so strong.
The strongest piece for me is the title track, ‘The Healer’ which closes the album. Zen-like, its strength comes from its resigned simplicity – inevitable and calm as nature, its crescent structure arcs slowly over 6:36 from Luke Howard’s whispered chords to when the band enters (Delecca only enters at 4:00 and then only to firm up the same minimal chords) only to die off again to silence on that handful of churchy chords. It is lovely, transporting, spiritual –and has exactly nothing to do with the way much of jazz is played today. Which makes it a truly unique musical experience, beyond genre – as much great music is.
Delecca, Howard, Zion and Farrugia have made one of the finest tenor quartet albums I have heard this year – animal strong and caress soft, fiery yellow and cool blue. It is a jazz format that is one of the most satisfying of all within the canon, and they do it so well. So well, in fact, that they deserve your ears. They already have mine.
Anton Delecca (tenor saxophone)
Luke Howard (piano)
Jonathan Zion (acoustic bass)
Daniel Farrugia (drums)
Anton Delecca Quartet on the web www.antondeleccaquartet.com
Album cover art by Hoof Art & Design