Mark Turner photo by Daniel Sheehan
Sunday, May 21, 7:30pm
2017 Boren Ave
BY ANDREW MEYER
Mark Turner is something of an enigma; always balancing a focus toward the spiritual and artistic center with a relentless pursuit of the new. Legends abound of the saxophonist setting out on the road with nothing more than his tenor saxophone and a yoga mat. Descriptions of his intertwining of musical and spiritual practices are just as likely to be found in issues of the Buddhist review, Tricycle, as they are to be in DownBeat or JazzTimes. Guitarist and frequent collaborator Kurt Rosenwinkel said, “He’s not grounded in this world; he’s grounded in a deeper—not deeper, but larger—spiritual world.”
Mark Turner was born in Southwestern Ohio and grew up in Southern California. As a young man, Turner saw his future as a commercial artist, but his enrollment at Cal State Long Beach, and later at the Berklee College of Music found him dedicating long hours to saxophone mastery by absorbing the work of previous saxophone greats. Following these studies, Turner moved to New York, where he began an illustrious career as an in-demand sideman and bandleader in his own right.
With fifteen albums under his name as a leader, and dozens of releases accompanying the likes of Joshua Redman, Lee Konitz, David Binney, Billy Hart, Enrico Rava, and Rosenwinkel, Turner has an extensive recording catalogue. His 2022 release Return from the Stars, embodies yogic sensibilities of patience, flexibility, and flow through long, sustained harmonies and contrapuntal writing. Turner’s improvisation features the kind of rhythmic freedom that is earned through close collaboration and trust, and without doubt a product of the trio of fine musicians complementing the saxophonist in his piano-less quartet. Here he is heard alongside Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on double bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums. The piano-less quartet is a format that Turner first explored on the 2014 release of Lathe of Heaven, featuring Martin, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, and Marcus Gilmore on drums.
While these notable recent releases have been devoid of harmonic instruments, the saxophonist has maintained longstanding partnerships with pianist Ethan Iverson as well as guitarists Mikkel Ploug and Rosenwinkel. His work with Ploug is particularly expansive, blurring the lines between collective mind-meld and individual improvisation.
Perhaps in reflecting his lifelong search for a centered existence and musical practice, Turner often notes two very disparate saxophone legends as major influences, John Coltrane and Warne Marsh. The lightness and warm rasp of Turner’s sound immediately recalls Marsh’s cool tenor tone while his incredible fluidity certainly recalls Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” approach. His penchant for long lines both in composition and improvisation seems to be a direct inheritance from the Warne Marsh/Lennie Tristano school of playing. Turner is also known to have a near-obsessive work ethic when it comes to practicing, another shared trait with Coltrane. His eﬀortless sounding control of the tenor saxophone’s extreme altissimo register and his fine control of intonation over spacious melodic duo settings have elevated jazz composition.
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