Mark Turner was born in Ohio in 1965, and grew up in Southern California. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, then moved to New York and worked in the huge jazz department of the downtown Tower Records. Great jazz was always playing at Tower, even late at night — it was a hangout — with the current album displayed next to the cash register.
Turner loved to listen to Keith Jarrett's group, with Dewey Redman on sax and Paul Motian on drums. Motian loved that group, too, and later in life wondered out loud why so many interviewers asked him about his time with Bill Evans in the 1960s, while fewer inquired about the 1970s with Jarrett.
Motian's career unfolded over a lifetime — the best kind of jazz career. Up to the end, he worked several weeks a year at the Village Vanguard, drawing good crowds for his trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, his Electric Bebop Band, and his Septet, in which Turner was a player. In late 2010, when the Vanguard first booked Turner as a leader, he reciprocated and called Motian. Six months later, their first set — on June 21, 2011 — aired on Live at the Village Vanguard from NPR Music. Nate Chinen wrote in The New York Times, "The music had its peaks, with everyone playing at full strength, but its lulls were even better." We have the second set on JazzSet.
Turner opens with a contrarian choice. In an extended solo introduction to the old ballad "Stardust," his woodwind-like tone spans his tall range, sidestepping onto the rungs as he climbs and descends. There's a piece by Thelonious Monk and another by Bud Powell, but the heart of this set is a pair of flowing, conversational, improvisatory pieces: "Wasteland" by Turner leads to "Etude" by Motian (Ben Street's choice).
One of the pleasures is listening to Motian's kit; his cymbals are legendary. He loved how his drums sounded in the Vanguard — so much so that, in his last years, he rarely played anywhere else. He died after a brief illness on Nov. 22, 2011.
Bassist Ben Street, born in Maine, has been on the New York scene with Turner for more than two decades. The new player is David Virelles, born in Santiago de Cuba in 1983. Virelles has lived in Canada, where he received the Oscar Peterson Prize. Looking back on the group's last week together, Mark Turner told JazzSet, "I consider myself an economical player, not at the top of my voice on every song no matter what, and Paul is like that."
Thanks to Josh Jackson and the WBGO/NPR Music team for documenting this group. Recording by David Tallacksen, with a Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.