Mark Turner: Return From The Stars

Abstraction seems to get the better of melody and coherence in the saxophonist's latest session, inspired by a 1961 Polish sci-fi novel


The album’s title comes from a 1961 science-fiction novel by Polish author Stanisław Lem in which an astronaut returns after a 127-year mission and finds life on Earth has changed dramatically. Turner’s previous album was in 2014 and that title also came from a sci-fi novel – Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. Seems to be something of a theme developing here.

Turner’s new album features a chordless quartet, as did Lathe Of Heaven, but Jason Palmer replaces Avishai Cohen on trumpet and Jonathan Pinson takes the place of Marcus Gilmore on drums. Joe Martin, bassist from the original quartet, remains.

All eight tracks were written by Turner and the absence of a piano or other chordal instrument places the focus onto his tenor and Palmer’s trumpet. An unfortunate consequence is that the rhythm section can sound unattached. Pinson is often going nowhere, relegated to aimless and unsettled background drumming while Martin is subdued and at times almost nebulous on bass.

Maybe the unsettling is intended (perhaps to signify sparse landscapes and the like) but who wants to be unsettled whenever the album is played? It’s a shame because I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Martin play live several times before, not least alongside Turner in Billy Hart’s quartet and have always been impressed by his delivery. Similarly, I’ve witnessed live performances from both Turner and Palmer in recent years and these have always been top class.

Here though, whilst intricate interplay between sax and trumpet and often labyrinthine soloing reflect a high degree of technical proficiency, the free-form nature of the output means it is generally devoid of melody. It sometimes seems as if the horns are engaged in scale practice and as a result each track can tend to sound somewhat similar to the next.

Return From The Stars; Terminus; Bridgetown; It’s Not Alright With Me; Nigeria II; Waste Land; Unacceptable; Lincoln Heights (64.50)
Turner (ts); Jason Palmer (t); Joe Martin (b); Jonathan Pinson (d). NY, November 2019.
ECM Records 3842871