You don't have to know the work of the spiritualist G.I. Gurdjieff to revel in this complex, heady recording dedicated to his teachings.  Bassist Dave Morgan, who wrote all nine tracks, explains Gurdjieff in his liner notes.

Rather, the music speaks for itself.  It's urgent, funny, tender, pulse-pounding.  It features some of the best musicians in the Cleveland area, including Morgan, world rhythm master Jamey Haddad, trumpeter Jack Schantz, keyboardist Dan Wall, guitarist Bob Fraser, saxophonist Howie Smith, and drummer Nathan Douds.  It's all over the map, and wonderfully so, from the brooding tone poem of "The Search" to the otherworldly stomp of "Karnak" to the 12-bar blues of "Identifyin" (Blues for G).  It all works, making Sly Man an early contender for a top spot in the 2010 critic's polls.  

Among the highlights" "The Law of Three," a hard-rocking cut with a samba mid-section setting the creamy saxes of Smith and John Klayman against the penetrating trombone of Chris Anderson and Wall's piano stitching; the sweet chorale of "Bhakti"; and the soulful "Identifyin'" featuring Anderson, Klayman's funky sax and Val Kent's feathery drumming.  The musicianship is flawless, the production crisp, the soundscape expansive.

Morgan is exceptional at contrasting voicing and rhythmic complexity.  "Karnak," built on a 4/4 platform, bristles with trickier rhythms, making it dizzying and stimulating, particularly when Smith unfurls fearless free sax and keyboardist Wall burns as hot as Joe Zawinul ever did.

"For sheer creative euphoria, there was Dave Morgan's "Moon Palace," which began with tenor sax and bass limning the sinuous theme in unison before joining the others in a rich tapestry that gave [Sean] Jones plenty of space to take trumpet flight." 

Among the finest large jazz ensembles -- not only locally, but nationally -- the Jazz Unit has been playing regularly on Monday nights at the Bop Stop since 1994. But since that venue is temporarily closed, the band is doing this gig at Nighttown to keep a presence on the local scene. The Unit has already cut one CD, Choices -- an all-around excellent effort that features impressive compositions and arrangements by bassist Dave Morgan. Some of the finest jazz players in Northeast Ohio appear on it, including trumpeter/leader Jack Schantz, alto man Howie Smith, pianist Dan Wall, guitarist Bob Fraser, and vibe player Ron Busch. The Jazz Unit contains 13 pieces, including two trumpets; two trombones; a French horn; alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones (the tenor man doubles on flute); guitar; vibes; piano; bass; and drums -- an unusual instrumental makeup that leads to fresh and unique timbres. Morgan's got a modern, mainstream writing style that's been influenced by Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones, and the band also plays charts by Smith, a member of Cleveland State's faculty. Among his compositions are the 7/4 "In the Kitchen" and "Wayne's Whorl," a Wayne Shorter-like piece. Schantz has always been an inventive and melodic improviser, and his concentration on classical playing in recent years has given him a fuller, darker tone, better range, and more precise articulation, while Fraser has been influenced by pianists Bill Evans and Chick Corea, and he's a very intelligent improviser, as is Busch. John Clayman's a strong, lyrical tenor sax man, and Morgan also solos well; he and drummer Mark Gonder give the band a powerful, flexible underpinning.
Ever since the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1984, it's been attracting great jazz instrumentalists, singers and arrangers from both coasts. After trumpeter Jack Schantz became it's third artistic director in '93, the band also began attracting some much-needed bread. What you hear on this, it's third CD, is a 17-piece juggernaut featuring tenorist Joe Lovano and his wife, singer Judi Silvano. Her uncanny ability to duplicate a lead line adds another instrument to the mix. Emerging as the star of this session is the band's bassist, Dave Morgan. A truly gifted arranger, Morgan's five-part suite, "The Surprise of Being," is the albums creative centerpiece. The suite is a wellconstructed big-band workout: the title track is an energetic, brass plated fanfare that provides a challenge and sounding board for Lovano's gritty blowing. The ensuing movements, particularly "The Looking Glass," incorporate Lovano's big tones with Silvano's soaring wordlessness, which varies from ethereal to playful as she utilizes her highly personal scat, propelled by drummer Nate Douds and bassist Morgan. It's an exotic, atmospheric gem of orchestral colors and big-band swing. Another peak: "Viva Caruso," showing off sectional tightness and first-rate unison (note Silvano's doubling of the brass licks) plus impressive solo depth in trumpeter Jim Powell and vibist Ron Busch.
David Morgan writes for both the jazz and classical worlds. The triptych that is the Three Vignettes was written specially for Greg Banaszak. The first vignette is The Secret of the Golden Flower and moves without effort between Vaughan Williams and an Oriental sway: fast, punchy and meditative. Consolation has the contours of a primitive church hymn moving through a mist of melancholy. The final First Light makes play with Latin-American dance. Elements of rumba and tango are married to 1950s-style commercial sophisticated light music. Morgan's writing is delicate and luminously orchestrated.

Music