around in the 1970s might recall a disco song called “The Sound of
Philadelphia,” which was the theme for television series, Soul Train.
Saxophonist/composer Neil Leonard calls Marcel’s Window (GASP
Records, 2011) the “sound of Philly in the 21st century.”
Born in Boston, Leonard is based in Philadelphia, Pa., and draws on the
talents of other Philly musicians: pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Lee Smith
and drummer Craig McIver. The set is comprised of six pieces that
represent the city’s culture. The title is drawn from a window cut into
the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s façade to illuminate Marcel Duchamp’s
“The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors.”
“Alex in the Atrium” is a playful piece that features Leonard on the alto
sax. Though a modern piece, it’s done in a traditional jazz style. Bass
and drums cut loose underneath the leads, and at times share the spotlight
with sax or piano. McIver’s array of cymbals helps highlight varying
textures of the beat. Toward the end of the song, Smith solos on bass,
snapping the strings in rapid-fire succession during several phrases.
The title song begins with a brooding rhythm. The alto and the piano blend
for a tightly syncopated melody before the song shifts into a spirited
adventure. Lawton begins his solo in a relative safe zone, but clearly
departs from the path, darting about here and there for a while, and then
breaking into an all-out sprint. Leonard follows with some intense
phrasing of his own. Not to be forgotten, Smith and McIver break from
playing a set rhythm, instead delivering some abstract lines that happen
to fit within what Leonard’s doing.
This musical exploration into the City of Brotherly Love has a running
time of about 48 minutes. So even though the individual pieces are longer
than most popular fare (“Invisible Cities” is more than 13 minutes), the
recording doesn’t drag or invite a sense of restlessness.
Leonard is artistic director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Institute at
Berklee College of Music. His vast list of associates include a dynamic
cross-section of styles, including Boston Ballet, Hiram Bullock, Kevin
Eubanks, Billy Kilson and Todd Rundgren.