At the heart of Sister Cities, the new release by The Ocular Concern, is the four-part suite which lends the album its name. Sister Cities touches upon the theme of a modern world with increasingly fuzzier boundaries, with the quartet’s Portland, Oregon home as the glue that binds it up. Of equal relevance is that the theme is analogous to the music itself. Contemporary music of complex structures and infinite details, it lends itself to no one influence, except in fleeting moments.
There’s some voicing of the tango form on “The Island Milonga,” though approached more with the indie-rock flavor of Calexico than, say, a more traditional expression on recent releases by Latin Jazz artist Mark Weinstein’s Todo Corozon or Julio Botti’s Tango Nostalgias or even the innovative Line Kruse’s approach on Dancing on Air. And the use of African mbira on the ephemeral “Ghost Town City Council” is eclipsed by the song’s opening indie-rock twang and its hard rock burly outro. There’s also the chamber music opening to “Portland In Reverse” and how it intermittently cedes to the singular modern jazz influence of a Todd Sickafoose Tiny Resistors.
And that’s the jumping off point to what makes Sister Cities so damn successful. Todd Sickafoose was one of the early innovators to this new style of contemporary music that calls Jazz home but travels to so many genres that home is simply wherever the ensemble briefly lays down its notes. The key to moving in complex directions from genre to genre with a whirlwind of motion that it all seems to blend together is the quality of its melodies, and the way in which they are stamped onto the listener’s attention during the intro, the conclusion, and some well-timed spots in between.
Sister Cities is dotted with its shifting tides of influences and expressions, but it’s the album’s well-crafted, thoughtful, quirky melodic statements that makes this music supremely affable and an effortless listen.
Your album personnel: Dan Duval (electric guitar, toy piano), Andrew Oliver (electric piano, percussion), Stephen Pancerev (drums), Lee Elderton (clarinet), Nathan Beck (vibraphone, mbira), and guests: Erin Furbee (violin), Brian Quincey (viola), Justin Kagan (cello), and Alex Krebs (bandoneon).
Released on PJCE.
Jazz from the Portland, Oregon scene.