Jeff Cosgrove is a drummer and composer that just released his sixth album, HISTORY GETS AHEAD OF THE STORY, as a homage to his longtime collaborator friend and bassist William Parker. This time he writes the arrangements for an organ trio featuring John Medeski on organ (Medeski, Martin and Wood, Medeski’s Mad Skillet) and Jeff Lederer on sax (Matt Wilson Quartet). Lederer and Cosgrove have played together several times and Lederer and Medeski and John have played together a good bit but the three of had never played together before that first day of recording. Cosgrove said, “There were no rehearsals or anything, we just went for it. Another benefit of working with some incredible musicians.”
Both Cosgrove and Parker are known for their spontaneous composition and this album strongly delivers on that front. Cosgrove explains, “We had lead sheets for all of the tunes but there really wasn’t any pre-arrangement. One of us would have an idea of how to try a particular tune and make a take of it. Sometimes it worked right out of the gate – like Things Fall Apart and other times we went through a few different tries to get it where we wanted. All of the melodies were written but the arrangements were very spontaneous which was one of the most fun parts for me about the recording.”
The recording was done at Applehead studios in Saugerties NY over a two-day period. Most of the recording was done in the first day with the second day for Wood Flute Song, Things Fall Apart, and Purcell’s Lament. “We picked takes and made second passes at a couple of other tunes that didn’t end up making the record. It was a pretty fast process” said Cosgrove and continued, “Most record dates I do are done in a day. We dialed in most of the sounds the night before we started recording which was a huge help so we had two full days to play music. Chris Bittner (the engineer) really knows that space and John’s sound and was incredible at getting us set. Another huge luxury was getting to use my drums. It seems like a strange thing but I rarely get to use my drums on my records, usually it is provided drums at the studio or performance space.”
Each track on the album takes on one or more of three voice types : melodic, where each instrument is flowing together, conversational, where the instruments are bouncing back and forth in a call and response mode and frenzied where they combine to form a cacophony of sound before returning to one of the other two. This makes for a very dynamic album with very interesting combinations and range.
William Parker wrote seven of the ten tracks – with Lederer writing two (Purcell’s Lament, Gospel Flowers) and Cosgrove wrote Ghost. These were compositions from William’s Quartet book featuring Rob Brown, Flip Barns, William and Hamid Drake. Cosgrove says, “I love this band, it’s my favorite of William’s groups and have seen them many times.” Overall, the compositions and improvisations are strong and both Medeski and Lederer are highlighted on different tracks and segments with Cosgrove laying down strong grooves throughout. Here’s my track-by-track take on the album.
- Oneal’s Porch: This one starts out with a scorching sax-organ theme and then drops down o a groove that could be right out of a spy thriller movie. Early on Lederer has a soaring, screeching altissimo fed solo that then levels off on more traditional tenor levels. He catches the listener immediately with some very slick spacing. Medeski then takes over for his first solo turn, very meandering, interesting bouncing ride as he’s known for. At the end of the solo, Medeski and Lederer on tenor enter into what I’d call the first conversation playing off each other in a way that makes you want to join the discussion. The song then returns to the main theme with the melodic trio cruising out together.
- Corn Meal Dance: Medeski starts this one off with some spacy, gospel like tones before Lederer blasts off with some really powerful passionate playing. It’s definitely a sax swathed tune. Cosgrove’s accompaniment with Lederer is on point and the brush playing blends softness into the mix. Medeski takes a turn with another near conversational segment with Cosgrove before Lederer comes back with a blistering solo. This one is slower paced but enables you to hear every, well-spaced note.
- Gospel Flowers: Gospel Flowers starts full steam with the trio with Lederer breaking out in the lead first. His playing is really strong throughout the album and this tune is no exception. Medeski takes another solo with Cosgrove pacing along and it’s like hand in glove playing off each other. This longer solo section is a lot of fun. Lederer comes back to lead the head and the band grooves together with the sax altissimo again showing his strength.
- Little Bird: Little Bird is probably the most playful tune on the album, one where the title is most indicative of the tone. Lederer on flute starts mimicking a bird like sound with Medeski playing along in the intro. Throughout the song, the back and forth interplay is fun. Medeski takes a nice rambling solo part way through with Lederer following on flute at fluttering speed before flying around on a trip. Cosgrove takes his first solo here as well, a well defined segue before the Medeski and Lederer take us into one of those frenzied conversations sounding like a bunch of birds in the trees.
- Ghost: As expected, this opens with an eerie low volume drone from Cosgrove and then he comes in with a crash roll. Lederer enters this time with clarinet in a solemn tone. He then switches gears slightly to a more hopeful melody with Cosgrove and Medeski trailing. Cosgrove is lightly on the cymbals and gong before Medeski comes in midway through with a haunting resonating riff. Lederer reenters at the end to carry the tune as the trio fade out together.
- Moon: Cosgrove opens this one up with a toe tapping rhythm before the Lederer on soprano and Medeski enter with a cruising melody. The beginning sector of this is more composed before Lederer and Cosgrove duo with a nice trading section. Medeski lays back a little with a few pops in between the two giving Lederer a lot of room to work with. Then, as with most of the tracks, John takes over for one of his traditional rambles. It definitely sounds like more than one player with just John but then Lederer comes in for a synchronized section with the organ before he comes back with the main theme.
- Things Fall Apart: Medeski starts here with a stop and go melody and then Lederer picks up with the same theme. This is one of the best representations of a three-way conversation between the players. I could envision them sitting at a table having a discussion with each voice playing off the other. The pace picks up to the point where it could be a heated argument, an interesting way that the musicians show their intimacy with each other’s playing.
- Wood Flute Song: Cosgrove starts this with a nice tom tom sequence. Lederer hits with a rambling soprano section before Medeski comes in and repeats the wood flute sequence. Cosgrove very melodically rolls with Medeski especially on the toms and the ride and crash cymbals before Lederer takes over to the close.
- Purcell’s Lament: Lederer starts with a soprano solo and then both Medeski and Cosgrove join in this somber ballad. With this album in particular, the tunes seem to fit well with the titles as there is definitely a lamenting sound in this one. Often in instrumental music, the titles seem to be more random with little connection to the feel of the music. Medeski rides through the middle of this one with a very flowing full solo with a lot of sustained notes for Lederer to build on when he comes back with the lamentation them.
- Harlem: Back on tenor, Lederer plays a sultry tenor opening with Cosgrove tapping out the rhythm. Not to get carried away but it does feel like a swinging hot summer night uptown in NYC. Medeski comes in with some choppy bass pedals and popping notes to lay behind Lederer’s interesting deep and squawking solo. Lederer really shows great range in his playing on this album and this tune is no exception. This trio knows how to swing whether it’s soloing, in duos or synchronously. Medeski and Cosgrove have a lot of depth to the conversation they have on the break on this tune and segue nicely back to Lederer for the main theme. The three way at the end of this tune is exciting before we ride out with the chill close.
History Gets Ahead of the Story is an album that might not typically hit your radar but it should as the craftmanship and sonic interplay here is excellent. If you’re a fan of jazz, fusion, hard or soft bop you should check it out. I think you’ll enjoy this listen end to end.
Stream and Purchase Here
Jeff Cosgrove – Drums
John Medeski – Organ
Jeff Lederer – Tenor sax, Soprano Sax, Clarinet, Flute