Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Magical, Pensively Conversational Improvisations From Josh Sinton’s Latest Project

The trio What Happens in a Year is a serendipitous meeting of minds, three guys who are great listeners and conversationalists. Formidable and incredibly mutable low-register multi-reedman Josh Sinton first brought guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Giacomo Merega into a rehearsal room to whip up some ideas he could flesh out for an album. Their rapport turned out to be so strong that Sinton decided simply to go with the trio’s spontaneous interactions as his first-ever full-length, completely improvised album, Cérémonie/Musique, streaming at Bandcamp.

As you would expect from Merega and Neufeld, the music here tends to be on the quiet side. As you would expect from Sinton, especially, it’s entertaining, not merely a pattern book to inspire other free jazz dudes. In the album’s opening number, La Politique des Auteurs, Sinton plays spare, rather wistful baritone sax phrases, Merega responding with one of his signature devices, spacious chords. Neufeld enters the picture with skeletal motives and lingering, distant menace. A bustle develops beneath Sinton’s airy lines; Merega’s bubbles evince jarring slashes from the guitar.

Sepulchral ambience punctuated by the occasional cry is the central premise of Algernon, a magically austere soundscape. Change of Scene is much the same: lingering bass clarinet from Sinton, spare volume-knob swells and brooding figures from Neufeld and shadowy low end from Merega…all of which hardly telegraph the sotto-voce revelry to come.

The dissociative low-register prowl from Sinton – back on baritone sax – and Merega in Sleepwalk Digest is spot-on, Neufeld adding unexpectedly wary, skronky accents and menacingly steady, slow chordal cascades. The guitarist’s morosely tolling lines take centerstage over his bandmates’ floating, flitting, ghostly presence in Untethered.

The group follow the same pattern, but even more spaciously and skeletally, in Netherland, at first the most haunting yet ultimately the funniest piece here. They close the album with Music From a Locked Room, an extended, triangulated pitch-and-follow scenario. What a beautifully enveloping headphone album: you’ll undoubtedly see this on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year.

November 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky

This is what free jazz ought to sound like. While there’s definitely plenty of composition here, there’s also an extraordinary amount of listening and the smart, thoughtful playing that good musicians do when they’re all tuned into each other. Trombonist Samuel Blaser leads the crew and gets extra props for putting this particular unit together. This is one of those albums that the drummer absolutely owns: Tyshawn Sorey rumbles underneath, methodically like a subway (by turns a steady local train, a work train inching by or an occasional express roaring along) as guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Thomas Morgan add shade and color in a stunning display of minimalist precision. No wasted notes here!

Blaser gets the over seventeen-minute title track to work off a stately, thoughtful five-note riff punctuated by stillness and deftly placed accents by Neufeld and Morgan. As with the rest of the tracks here, there’s more following and echoing than there is actual interplay, the musicians taking turns building off a minute, intricate phrase, almost a contest where the winner is he who can say the most with the least. Which with generally quiet music is an admirable goal. On this song, guitar and then bass maintain suspense two steps behind the beat, which at a lento crawl is a lot harder than it sounds. Blaser’s unexpectedly triumphant windup to the song actually adds an undercurrent of unease (that device will recur later to rousing effect).

The second cut, Red Hook scurries without actually scurrying – Blaser’s trombone runs it alone as the rhythm section stays terse and deliberate with vivid washes of sound from Neufeld’s guitar. They follow it with the pensive, plaintive Choral I (which they return to as a concluding theme), and then the aptly titled Mystical Circle, Blaser remaining defiantly casual, even out-of-focus throughout a series of methodical descending progressions. The dark, murky, minor-key Mandala is nothing short of phantasmagorical; by contrast, Speed Game is tongue-in-cheek, more a series of relays than any kind of sprint. This quiet, deft display of talent is nothing short of a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of 2009.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment