Plush Nocturnes from Julian Shore
Pianist Julian Shore’s new Filaments is not a particularly edgy album, but it is an unselfconsciously attractive one – and it isn’t shallow by a long shot. While a student at Berklee, Shore found a muse in Gretchen Parlato, and jumped at the chance to sub in her band when Taylor Eigsti was out of town. That influence is clear here: it could also be said that this is a less demanding version of what Sara Serpa is doing with vocalese-based third-stream sounds. For Shore, less is more: his soloing is spacious, usually establishing a warm early-evening ambience in tandem with the plush vocal harmonies of Alexa Barchini – who also wrote lyrics to a couple of the tunes – and Shelly Tzarafi. Phil Donkin on bass and the reliably excellent Tommy Crane on drums maintain a deceptively energetic pulse underneath.
The album’s opening track, Grey Lights, Green Lily sets the tone, a distantly bucolic theme that reminds of Jeremy Udden, or Bill Frisell but without the persistent unease. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s biting prowl contrasts with Shore’s terse, warm approach and Tzarafi’s nebulous atmospherics. Barchini’s clear, high soprano shows off a Jenifer Jackson-esque wistfulness on Made Very Small, Rosenwinkel’s high-beam sostenuto lines mingling tersely with Shore’s crepuscular twinkle. Big Bad World, a jazz waltz, takes chances with clutter as Jeff Miles’ guitar spirals around the piano, but they sidestep it, the women’s harmonies driving a series of lush crescendos.
Whisper, a fetchingly direct, hushedly lyrical Shore/Barchini co-write, shows off a crystalline purity throughout her range; the song is reprised briefly at the end of the album as a piece for Kurt Ozan’s solo dobro. Give brings Rosenwinkel back for oldschool charm and then spacious bite as Godwin Louis’ alto sax, Billy Buss’ trumpet and Andrew Hadro’s baritone sax join forces for a catchy late-period Weather Report style chart. Donkin nimbly intersperses his own muted solo amidst the glimmer of the tastefully, low-key jazz waltz I Will If You Will, while Crane does the same with a surprisingly effective, hard-hitting drive alongside Miles’ judicious incisions and the wash of vocals on Like a Shadow.
For one reason or another, the single most intense track here, Misdirection/Determined is a lot closer to art-rock than jazz, Barchini evoking a Mingus-era Joni Mitchell longing over Shore’s moody modalities. And the most overtly balladesque of the tracks, Venus, features Noah Preminger’s tenor shifting artfully between the boudoir and the highwire. This album sneaks up on you: there literally isn’t a bad song on it. It’s a step in an auspicious direction: let’s hope there’s more where this came from.
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