As a sort of new paragon of saxophone technique, and as a tenor saxophonist who had internalized the 1960s tradition of Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter only to escape into his own calm and original language, Mark Turner was a hero to young musicians around the turn of the century. He’s led his own bands in clubs over the last decade, and recorded as a sideman with plenty of others: Billy Hart, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Enrico Rava. But “Lathe of Heaven” is his first album in 13 years, since “Dharma Days,” in 2001.
It’s his best record. It has a group sound, the force of embodied unity. It does something that jazz records used to do more: you might hear it, feel there’s really nothing to add, and decide not to listen to records—including this one—for, say, a week.
Mr. Turner used to write songs for small, highly advanced groups including a chordal instrument—often the pianist Brad Mehldau or the guitarist Mr. Rosenwinkel—that seemed to work through various kinds of scholarly identities, obsessive or relaxed, étudelike or highly sensitized. As an improviser he invested in a kind of ongoing crescendo effect: waves of controlled intensity, surging modulations and patterns that spread through the band. The music had wisdom and patience, but also telegraphed its desire to be excellent: It asked you, are you noticing, and do you understand how important this moment is? And this one? And this?
“Lathe of Heaven” presents a quartet of musicians who weren’t part of his old crew: the trumpeter Avishai Cohen, the bassist Joe Martin and the brilliant drummer Marcus Gilmore, who often flows in at least four directions at once. There’s no chordal instrument to tie the harmony together, and if Mr. Turner was calm before, he’s really calm now. His tone has strengthened and ripened, and his tumbling patterns have become less predictable.
It’s all his own music here: lines and counterpoint written for himself and Mr. Cohen that sound succinct and final, clear and articulate in an almost pre-Renaissance way. Mr. Turner’s long solos in tracks like “The Edenist” and “Sonnet for Stevie” seem to start from zero and contain a great deal of jazz tradition without straining. The band’s sound and the album’s engineering contain plenty of light and open space; at the same time, this remains mysterious music, bordering on dark. It has no particular identity and doesn’t care what you’re noticing. BEN RATLIFF