Paul English’s ‘Girl in Green’
A recent album from Big Round Records – Paul English’s Girl in green – hides not so new music performances from the year 2000. Its recording sessions took place after the Texas Jazz Festival in Corpus Christi. Two jam sessions were packed by a lineup of extraordinary players, such as guitarist Brennen Nase and trumpeter Dennis Dotson from Houston (who had been with the Woody Herman and Buddy Rich bands), Dallas-based drummer Mike Drake, percussionist James Metcalfe, saxophonist and flutist David Liebman and saxophonist Ed Calle, based in Miami. Composer Paul English had organized the recording sessions since he could feel the magic of the real-time collaboration of these musicians in the festival performance. Even now, twenty years later, while listening to the musical interaction of these musicians, you can still experience the same thrill and excitement of seven jazz players pouring out music themselves and through each other.
The CD repertoire was decided on the spot during the sessions. Paul English took an opportunity to present his compositions and had tailored his material to be beneficial for the great jazz musicians playing. Other pieces on the album were arrangements of immortal jazz giants – Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Therefore three albums’ worth of material was recorded and the musicians had a plan for a three-record deal. Unfortunately, according to Paul English himself, ‘shortly after those sessions, the small record company that I had signed with dissolved, and the tapes were locked away’ (Scott Yanow). During negotiations, the recordings were locked away for two decades, but finally in 2020, Girl in Green was born, sharing the best takes from these two recording sessions. The time loop of the ‘new’ CD catches the listener in its nostalgic spell. Even the name of the CD was inspired by somewhat of a femme fatale – a girl, wearing a green dress, who sat down during the rehearsal and disappeared without a trace before it was over. Even though the lineup of the CD is gone as it was twenty years ago, Paul English is hoping to still tour the CD in festivals without the exact performers.
Every minute of the recording for those listening sounds like a nostalgic novelty, so live, human and spirited, yet nowhere to be found today. As precise as it is lively, the sound is rich in creativity and instrumentation. The traditional elements of the jazz canon were mastered virtuosically yet never sounded more original. Beaming saxophone player David Liebman seems to lead the way through this soulful and playful atmosphere. He has had a huge influence on Paul English. The composer notes that Liebman’s musical insights have been important and helpful for him and he admires the musician.
The first piece on the album is John Coltrane’s classic minor blues, Equinox, distinguished by relaxed calm melodies. Solo tenor saxophonist Ed Calle brings soulfulness, mixing with the creativity of Dennis Dotson and David Liebman. The composition ‘Beautiful Love’, which features Liebman and the rhythm section, is heavily improvisational, swinging through musical monologues and dialogs, delivered by every instrument with passion.
Paul English’s title composition, Girl in Green, excitingly flows the melody through every instrument (especially Ed Calle’s soprano saxophone and David Liebman’s tenor saxophone) over the consistent drumming of Mike Drake. In the finale the melody dissolves into a wild tutti improvisation.
Some time Ago contrasts with Girl in Green by its relaxing mood with Ed Calle soloing on the soprano saxophone and the flowing quartet with distinctive piano performance. Miles Davis’ tune Solar shares the same instrumentation with Beautiful Love and its vibrant atmosphere yet again contrasts with the piece before. Quick, frisky percussion, complex piano improvisation and explosive bass prepare the listener for David Liebman’s soprano solo that tops it all.
Another original Paul English composition, One Final Word, has a distinctive swing rhythm and catchy melodic line featuring David Liebman, Dennis Dotson and Ed Calle. The ballade, filled with emotion, comes afterwards. Blue in Green is very melodic and nuanced, where both David Liebman and Paul English seem to be playing to themselves about things they will never tell anyone.
The next original Paul English composition is the jazz waltz Missing Lady, bringing a warm and relaxed atmosphere back to the listener. A Taste of Honey has a unique sound, fascinating with its instrumentation and coherence. Metcalfe’s percussion and Liebman’s flute alone create a musical space, full of wistfulness that is soon fulfilled by a modalized version of the tune and stunning solo tenor saxophone.
The CD concludes with a heartbreaking note – the piece Unconditional Surrender. A soothing piano and cozy soprano sax duet of David Liebman and Paul English drives by feeling, leaving the listener full and free to wonder.
Girl in Green feels personal and human, bringing charged emotion. The unity of sound, crafted by these different musicians twenty years ago, makes it an excellent musical collaboration between Paul English, David Liebman, Ed Calle and James Metcalfe. Such a fresh and contemporary sound from this old recording also proves the timeless power of communication and expression through jazz.