• Cadence Dec 1990
Desert Blue enja (CD 60162)

Helias’ latest marks a decisive shift for the bassist. Moving from more overtly avant conceptual concerns he here pulls in the reins a bit and seems to pay tribute to Mingus. The themes and arrangements (the Slickaphonic funk of “Skin” and the closer notwithstanding have a palpable “beneath the underdog” flavor. Blues, swing, and edge of classicism and a measured dose of freedom are the primary ingredients, though the bassist opts for a slightly less raucous ambiance overall. Ehrlich and Robertson set each other off nicely given the former’s subtly impassioned yet controlled lyricism and the latter’s brilliant quilt of backward glancing forward pushing (Louis Armstrong to Bill Dixon) mannerisms. The aforementioned funk cuts have their pleasures as well. Anderson takes a buzzing bellowing solo on “Skin” while the closer provides compositional interest through Helias’ knowing use of intersecting neo-minimalist lines.
Milo Fine

•The Newpaper
Mark Helias :Desert Blue enja

The Current Set , bassist/composer Mark Helias’ last outing, was a blast of smart-guy blowing. Structure, sure, but let’s see what’s in the horn. Or horns: Tim Berne, Robin Eubanks, Herb Robertson and Greg Osby all let it rip. Taken alone, the record presents Helias as a knowing instrumentalist. But recent actions from the Pentagon to the MTV programming board have learned us that the owls are not what they seem. So don’t be surprised when you listen to Desert Blue (enja), Helias’ latest, and hear a keen arranger’s date; the ripping is done only when the boss gives the nod. Its ever-shifting landscape has more girth than its quintet (and sometimes septet) should allow, but getting the most out of the elements at hand is something underknowns have to deal with all day long. Mark’s a NYC worker with credentials --Dewey Redman, Anthony Braxton --whose experience shows up in his writing. He puts the squeeze on what’s in front of him to come up with a weighty whole. Romantic interludes, gnarly bop, electric romps --without waxing too schizoid, he leads his ensembles through a broad turf. And while it stresses the investigation of myriad sources, it also makes an irrefutable case for focus -- even while employing a throng of capricious notions. Want to find out what thinking and playing encompasses right now on the New York jazz scene? Be at AS220.(Jim MacNie)

•Cashbox Desert Blue enja (R2 79631) 6/16/90
This exceptional bassist is turning into a blue-chip free-bop writer. This features an excellent cast (Ray Anderson, Anthony Davis, Pheeroan AkLaff, Marty Ehrlich, Jerome Harris and Herb Robertson) dealing with chewy textures that alternately rustle and rumble, purr and roar. Rich, witty and fresh.• The Philadelphia Tribune 6/1/90

Desert Blue enja
Bassist Mark Helias and an all-star septet of modernists -- Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich, and Herb Robertson-- crafted nine gem-like studies of the blues. Not just gut-bucket or Leadbelly, Chicago or the delta, but blue-bop, blue New Orleans, avant-funk and blue-intoned free jazz explorations, as well as fractured blues with a radicalized, staggered beat and dissonant hornwork creating a broken-mirror image of this earliest American music. For Helias, blues are both ever-present and a fertile soil to enrich every genre. He has proved his point with a fervent and inventive offering. This is one of the best of 1990.
Jules Epstein

" Advanced swing from progressive bassist: Nine of Mark Helias originals are performed here and the results are surprisingly funky and swinging for an ostensible avant-gardist. Most of the tunes have solid rhythmic foundations and swing melodically, though in an elliptical manner. Mingus is undoubtedly an influence on Helias' composing. This is far from either traditional swing or contemporary smooth jazz and should intrigue adventurous listeners, though some of it's tricky to dance to."

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