JazzTimes reviews Northern Light
The appealing music on this newly released CD was actually recorded in December of 1991 when pianist Scott Healy and guitarist Glenn Alexander went into a New York studio with bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Jeff Hirshfield and created these six tracks covering an economical 38 minutes. Unfortunately, both Healy and Alexander quickly got busy on other projects, with the pianist landing a full-time gig with the new Late Night with Conan O’Brien show, and the master tapes were shelved for over 20 years. In 2012 Alexander found a cassette containing music from that 1991 session and played it for his students at Sarah Lawrence College, who reacted so favorably that he and Healy reassessed and agreed that the music deserved wider exposure. “Holy shit! I don’t know if I can play that well now,” was Healy’s reaction, according to Bill Milkowski’s liner notes. Said Alexander: “I feel we play together, in a certain way, as well as anybody I know.” The music is lyrical, free-flowing and untethered rhythmically, and the group interaction is of the highest order, owing in part no doubt to the fact that this was a working band at the time. “One of the things I think that now makes it sound good,” said Healy, “is that we’d had two decades of overproduction and insensitive rhythm section playing. This idea of a bunch of guys playing free and really listening…we didn’t get that a lot in the ’90’s, I don’t think.”
No true tempo exists for Healy’s “Spiral,” yet he and Aleander’s inquistive musings, at varying levels of intensity, are given a firm underpinning by Driscoll and Hirshfield’s intuitive support. Comparisons can easily be made to the styles of Pat Metheny, or Keith Jarrett with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, but this quartet is clearly secure in its own identity. Alexander recorded “Christmas Day” two years later on his 1993 Rainbow’s Revenge fusion album, but prefers this earlier treatment. His twangy guitar and Healy’s crystalline piano combine mellifluously on the vibrant, uplifting theme. The pianist’s solo conveys an urgent pulse from the onset, with darting and spinning lines, as Hirshfield provides provocative accentuations. Driscoll’s improv is characterized by a cavernous sound and a serious determination. Alexander’s regrettably brief but impactful statement leads back to the theme before an energetic dual coda of sorts by the co-leaders.
Healy’s “November” first appeared on his 1989 Songs Without Words release with a ten-piece ensemble, but this is a more spacious, uncluttered version, starting with Driscoll’s ruminating solo. Healy and Alexander offer up the glistening, spiritual theme prior to the guitarist’s acoustic, heartbreakingly moving exposition. Healy succeeds him with an ever-probing quest replete with trickling extended passages. The reprise is somehow both plaintive and reassuring. Alexander’s reverbed intro sets the mood for the following spiraling theme of his “To the Point,” delivered in unison fashion by guitar and piano. Driscoll and Hirshfield keep a supple foundation for Healy’s coolly pulsating solo, while Alexander interjects dissonant washes that are surprisingly effective. A seamless guitar/piano interlude is breathtakingly executed until more of Alexander’s distortions furnish an unusual closure.
“Chimes” contains Healy’s reflective, mournful rubato intro that is underscored by composer Alexander’s eerie, sweeping, synthesizer-like guitar effects. Alexander then magically shifts into a warm, glowing solo that endears rather than provokes. Healy supplies sensitive comping and a subsequent essay that is richly layered and touching. The piece then returns to a dialogue between lyrical piano and otherworldly electronics similar to the one that began it all. Driscoll and Hirshfield’s input and receptiveness contribute still more valuable texture to this eloquent performance. Healy’s unadorned “Northern Light” features an ostinato in 6/4 played by him simultaneously on piano and synth. Alexander’s warped sound adds drama to his spiky improvisation, with Driscoll’s fretless electric bass–heard just on this one selection–producing a somewhat ominous backdrop. The track comes full circle as the simple ostinato reappears, reinforcing the message that seems to pervade this entire CD: “less is more.”
Notes on Jazz reviews Northern Light
For an album that has been stowed away in the vault for over twenty years Scott Healy and Glenn Alexander’s Northern Light has a taut, modern sound and sensibility. This enjoyable recording was taped by these two talented musicians back in December of 1991, along with the tight and elastic rhythm section of Kermit Driscoll on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. You would be hard pressed to believe it isn’t a current offering.
After this quartet disbanded, Alexander went on to some of his own projects playing with some prominent musicians in many genres, eventually landing a teaching gig first at the New School and then at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Healy became full time pianist in the band on television’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. As teachers often do, Alexander found a cassette of these ’91 sessions and played it for his students whose enthusiasm got both he and Healy to take another listen to what they had. They both agreed that the music not only held up well but possessed an extraordinary suppleness rarely captured on tape.They decided to release it on Hudson City Records in November of 2012.
The music does have an organic quality to it, breathing at its own unhurried pace. The opening number “Spiral” is a case in point. Drummer Hirshfield seems to be able to let the fragmented tune float over a rhythm that has no appparent time. Instead the group sympathetically floats along a path created by Alexander’s meandering Abercrombie-inspired guitar excursions. On Alexander’s fetching “Christmas Day”, Healey plays a beautifully darting piano solo reminiscent of early Lyle Mays with Pat Metheny with Alexander’s guitar taking on a distinctive Metheny tone.
Scott Healy’s “November” is introduced with a buoyant bass solo by Driscoll that leads to this folk inspired
melody. Alexander plays a warm and sensitive acoustic guitar solo that helps sustain the “down home” feeling of this song. Healy’s piano work is beautifully conceived as he seems to lose himself in the solo with a Keith Jarrett-like wandering quality to his playing.
On Glenn Alexander’s “To the Point” we have top notch ensemble work. Healy’s piano is poignant and pretty, while Alexander’s use of modulating echoed guitar effects is perfectly suited to the airy feel of the piece. Driscoll and Hirshfield are superbly understated while maintaining creative support.
“Chimes” is a beautifully realized ethereal piece. With Hirshfield’s exquisite use of his cymbals, Driscoll’s sustained and bowed bass lines and Alexander’s masterfully controlled guitar work with its swooping violin-like sound. It is almost as if Healy is playing piano with his fellow musicians on top of a beautiful, open mountaintop meadow, the band in perfect harmony with its surroundings and the prevailing winds. “Chimes” has an open air freshness to it that transports you to that mountainside even when your sitting on the couch in your living room.
The title track “Northern Light” has a 6/4 ostinato line that is played by Healy and with layered melodies by Alexander guitar and Driscoll’s bass before Healy adds his synthesized keyboards ala Zawinul at the midway point. Healy and Driscoll have a brief conversation with Hirshfield adding percussive pops along the way. Alexander lays low until he re-enters when Healy restores the ostinato piano line. The song seems to hint at worthy points of departure within its structure, but the promise never seems to materialize before the song ends.
Scott Healy and Glenn Alexander’s “Northern Light” is one of those rare recordings that thankfully, after being buried for over twenty years, made its way out of the vault and into the light.
All About Jazz reviews Northern Light
By DAN BILAWSKY – Published: January 1, 2013
In today’s fast-paced world, there’s a tendency to try to write, record and release music in quick succession, but that’s not always the best method. Sometimes, recorded music sounds best when it’s had the chance to marinate and soak up the diverse flavors of time. Such is the case with the unintentional decades-long gap between the recording and release of this album.
Pianist Scott Healy and guitarist Glenn Alexander recorded Northern Light in 1991, when they were gigging with the flexible rhythm team of bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, but it never made its way into the world; life, and all of its twists and turns happened for both men and this music was quickly put aside. Healy joined the house band for Late Night with Conan O’Brien as that show took flight and Alexander began to focus on his own projects. More than two decades later, the music is finally seeing the light of day and both men have the next generation of musicians to thank for it, with Alexander deciding to play it for his students at Sarah Lawrence College and their enthusiasm getting the ball rolling.
While the album is short by today’s standards, clocking in under forty minutes, it wins out with quality and diversity. The album gets underway with the loose floating “Spiral,” but takes a fusion-tinged turn on “Christmas Day,” where Alexander’s sound may appear a bit dated, but his ideas defy any time, place or style. “November” is a revelation of beauty; a promise that proves to be the high point of the album, but the second half of the program still has plenty to offer. “To The Point” rides on the possibility of danger, though it remains fairly sedate and never makes good on that promise, while “Chimes” slowly stirs itself around before taking on a light, but firm feeling. That penultimate performance proves to be a fine showcase for both co-leaders.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a long delayed release was worth the wait, but it works with this one. Northern Light is music deserving of an audience and now, decades after it was recorded, it will finally have one.
Jazz Weekly reviews Northern Light
by George W. Harris – Published: February 14, 2013
Here’s a subtle and delicate delight: Scott Healy/p-synth and Glenn Alexander/g co-lead a quartet with Kermit Driscoll/b and Jeff Hirshfield/dr on an extremely well conceived, composed and delivered collection of originals. All of the 6 tuens are recorded live to a two track, so the sound is warm and spontaneous. That would mean nothing if the music wasn’t strong enough, but here, the gentle mood, emphasized by songs like “November” and the reflective “Chimes” makes this an ebullient delight. Healy’s piano work on the latter is gracious and sparse, while Alexander’s embracing tone on the lyical “Christmas Day” and the spacious “Spiral” make for fascinating listening. The band swings and glides back and forth like the LA Kings front line, perfectly timed and able to handle anything. These guys play like they know what they’re doing.
Improvijazzation Nation reviews Northern Light
As you listen to Scott’s piano/synth work against the fantastic guitar from Glenn (joined by bass from Kermit Driscoll and drums from Jeff Hirshfield), you will be pleased beyond measure if well-played jazz. That’s especially evident on tracks like the beautiful “Christmas Day“, a 6:41 gem that you won’t soon forget! What makes this even more amazing is that these were from “closet tapes” – over 20 years ago – now, how cool is that (I know that I’ve discovered a few of those from my old recording days, too… & it is truly a pleasant discovery for any artist). My personal favorite, though, was the 4:56 “To The Point“… each player draws the best out of the others – sonically, I’m reminded of some of the best work David Friesen did back in the day when I listen to these 6 songs. I give Scott, Glenn & their compadres from two decades ago a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED on this one, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.
AcousticMusic.com Northern Light
by Mark S. Tucker
Live-to-2-track affairs have atmospherics that can be obtained nowhere else, that’s why they’re favored by connoissieurs, and the Scott Healy / Glenn Alexander Quartet’s Northern Light was caught in that fashion in an NYC studio in 1991…and then abandoned for two decades. Ouch! Keyboardist Healy was somewhat indifferent about the affair, but guitarist Alexander brought it in one day for his students at Sarah Lawrence College, and the tape went over very well, forcing a reconsideration of the music and then this much belated issuance. In many ways, what you hear in this Healy/Alexander confab is in line with Pat Metheny’s transition from his Chataugua days along with some Richie Beriach and a faint echo of the Towner/Abercrombie sessions long ago on ECM, the Sargasso Sea/5 Years Later materials.
Critic Bill Milkowski says Northern is “decidedly not a fusion offering” but oh it very much is and quite so. Bill’s a bit too fixated on Mahavishnu Orchestra as the milemarker, but McLaughlin ‘n the boys were at the far end of the progfusion spectrum, so it’s an inapposite confluence. Milkowski’s a good crit, so his pronouncement’s a trifle curious, but hold no worries, y’all: this is fusion, though I’ll admit it’s manners are a bit more trad and decorous than has often been the case in the realm. And should I be thought to gild the lily, one need only listen to the work John M. was wringing in the entirety of My Goal’s Beyond just before Mahavishnu’s official incarnation…and then slip up to the sparkling Royal Festival Hall CD of 1990. It’s all right there, you just have to be open to it.
The disc’s recording is airy and, for it’s 4-man configuration, lush, that live 2-track thing playing beautifully into the landscape (trust me, for this kind of gig, you have to hear the work, as words cannot adequately describe the holistic timbre of such meetings). The musicians, including Kermit Driscoll on bass and Jeff Hirschfield on drums, are supple, abstractedly gentlemanly, and cybernetically attuned, the result as at home in, say, an open air Big Sur concert as in an intimate night at the Catalina Cafe in L.A. Completely instrumental, there are six lengthy tunes averaging 6-1/2 minutes each, so there’s plenty of room for heady and intelligent but non-cataclysmic play. This ain’t Magma or Eleventh House but it’s definitely in the same class, and I have no doubt both Christian Vander and Larry Coryell, not to mention Keith Jarrett and Tomasz Stanko, will be very satisfied when they lay ears to it.