Lucid Culture


Minerva Weighs Out Smart Headphone Jazz

Jazz trio Minerva’s new album Saturnismo is a lot of fun: it’s headphone music. Drummer/bandleader Carlo Costa is a first-class colorist. A rough guess is that he’s hitting his hardware here about 80% more than he plays on the actual drum heads. JP Schlegelmilch on piano and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass are tremendously thoughtful, often minimalist. Everyone contributes compositions. Tempos are generally on the slow side but sometimes just the opposite; the emphasis is on subtlety rather than volume or overt displays of chops. The vibe is free and conversational: throughout the album (especially the expansive, spacious Nocturnal Patterns) it seems as the group is trying to play as few notes as possible. Melodies are alluded to more than stated outright, sometimes rather amusingly. Compositions, such as they exist here, provide a somewhat skeletal architecture for conversations, slow crescendos and subtle dynamic shifts; the chemistry veers from conspiratorial to friendly jousting.

The opening, title track is a diptych, with the band slowly feeling their way in, up to a simple piano theme that they then deconstruct, bass artfully holding it together as the piano and drums diverge, with some neat rhythmic tricks. Part two is austere, otherworldly and often stunningly chilling, bass and drums tentatively sensing their way around the piano melody that hints at the macabre but doesn’t quite go there, which only enhances the suspense. The second track starts with the quietest of overtones, prepared piano – or is that a toy piano? – adding spare accents until it takes on a slyly creepy broken music-box feel, tinkly piano paired off against bowed bass. The third cut is more traditionally melodic, a deconstructed ballad of sorts, the band – Costa in particular – having a great time playing hot potato with the central hook.

Dream Machine is aptly titled, ethereal but with a muffled, mechanical rhythm, Costa brightening it with nonchalantly clinking color. The trio’s sense of humor comes front and center with Let’s Go I Don’t Know, a swing tune interrupted. Plateau, which follows in a more cynical vein, could be a parody of a ballad with the band tiptoeing around the theme. More space than melody, Nocturnal Patterns is something akin to jazz on Pluto, where one of their years is centuries of ours: it’s more a series of pregnant pauses interrupted by melody than the other way around, and the suspense is unrelenting. The real stunner here is Moth, a sparse, stark Satie-esque jazz waltz, Schlegelmilch’s coldly sparkling ripples and insistent clusters doubling on and off with Niggenkemper’s terse pulse, Costa throwing in an unexpected fanfare midway through. The album closes on a more upbeat, accessible note with the sly tiptoe funk of Clessidra and then the plaintively catchy beauty of Battle Cry, a tune which wouldn’t be out of place in the early Steely Dan catalog. Minerva play the cd release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on May 17 at 8:30 PM: it should be just as entertaining and unpredictable as the album.

May 15, 2011 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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