The Mitch Marcus Quintet plays 21st century jazz: adventurous music that swings with all the muscularity and verve of pioneers like Mingus, Monk, and Rollins, but pays tribute to that glorious past by daring to advance the sweet science of collective improvisation into the future. The quintet's influences range freely through the last few decades of musical exploration – you can hear everything in it from the luminous harmonies of Ellington and Strayhorn to the on-a-dime turnarounds of Ornette's groups to Zappa's perpetually surprising melodic inventions – but they sound like no one but themselves, the sign of true innovators. These qualities of freshness and boldness shouldn't be as rare as they are; but Marcus and company have happily freed themselves from the deadly reverence for previously-discovered territory that drags down many younger jazz players these days. The Special is music that reawakens the hip listener to the potential of the vast undiscovered terrain ahead.
The album also boasts the singularly warm, organic, and punchy production aesthetic of Stephen Barncard, an underappreciated genius who has specialized in drawing out the full embodiment of his musicians' imaginations for over three decades now. Classic Barncard projects like the Grateful Dead's American Beauty and David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name established new highwater marks for the recording of acoustic guitars and vocals in their day; it's wonderful to hear on The Special how readily Barncard's uncompromising commitment to the natural sounds of well-played instruments in an uncluttered ambience translates to contemporary jazz.
The poet Ezra Pound's challenge to his generation of writers was to always "Make it new." The Mitch Marcus Quintet has taken up that challenge with the perfect balance of control and abandon, which is the very essence of jazz. In a world of play-it-safe hybrids of tired forms and well-intentioned-but-tepid homages to the great ones, Marcus and his colleagues are the real thing. -- Steve Silberman, contributing editor, Wired magazine