What began originally as the inspiration from a single piece of art blossomed into an entire album. After receiving a comission from San Fran’s de Young Museum and Intersection for the Arts to write a composition based on a piece showing at the de Young Museum, trumpeter Erik Jekabson was drawn to the installation art of Cornelia Parker, specifically her piece “Anti-Mass”… a collection of burnt timbers, the result of criminal arson, that seem to defy gravity by floating in place, the individual pieces giving the collective impression of wanting to reunite as a church once again. It’s a powerful piece, even viewed via computer screen.
Jekabson, also affected by the artwork, used it as the inspiration for his commissioned piece, which was later performed live at the museum. But that wasn’t enough. In the wake of his completed project, he set out on another, similar goal… to record an album of compositions based on individual pieces in the de Young Museum. That endeavor became Anti-Mass, an album both inventive and evocative, and one to deserve some recognition at year end when rounding up the best the year had to offer.
Your album personnel: Erik Jekabson (trumpet), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Mads Tolling (violin), Charith Premawardhana (viola), John Wiitala (bass), and Smith Dobson ( drums & vibes).
“Silence” opens the album with the low hum of strings, the siren call of trumpet, and the soft chime of vibes. It’s an enchanting tune, and it’s the kind of track that really hooks me, gets me excited for what the rest of the album has in store. As far as opening statements go, it’s a brilliant one.
It immediately transitions to an up-tempo piece. On “Strontium”, trumpet and violin and sax take turns calling out to the choir. When trumpet and sax weave strings of notes together as violin crackles like electricity… these are exhilarating passages.
The music goes in a jazz-folk direction with “Park Stroll.” A lively ballad with a bit of gravity to its sway, back and forth with a feathery lightness, but with a rhythmic punch that can ding you all the same. Tolling’s violin is the driving force behind the spirit of this tune, even when he steps into the background.
“A New Beginning” has violin on tiptoes, and sax and trumpet slow and lovely. Wiitala gets a tone on bass that shouldn’t be overlooked on this track. It has that throaty resonance of sounds from beneath the water’s surface, and also possesses the oddly calming warmth of underwater acoustics. Pretty neat.
The fifth track is accurately titled “Interlude.” Just over a minute in length, it features strings repeating a melancholic phrase while vibes dart in and out between the strings and bass takes short bursts of quick steps. It’s a pretty tune, and I’m a sucker for substantive interludes between primary album tracks. They can add such a delicious element to an album. This is especially true when they lead into a track like “Anti-Mass,” which begins as a torrential downpour, notes crashing to the floor, whipping sideways. But the storm recedes, and the tune becomes the sound of rain dripping off the eaves of rooftops. And when the clouds part and the sunlight shines through, the song is transformed into a New Orleans celebration of the storm now passed.
The seventh track is another interlude, a duo of violin twitches and butterfly vibes. And much like the previous interlude, this one leads into an up-tempo track, “Portrait of Miss D,” a jaunty stroll with some nice call and response between trumpet, sax, and violin. Bass gurgles happily through all of this, and when it gets in a brief solo, it makes its time in the spotlight count.
“The Cello Player” is sax and strings swaying to and fro. There’s a solemn tone to this composition, but in as much as this would imply an element of sadness, it’s an emotion that also typically recognizes a majestic beauty that exists even in dour times.
The pattern of transitioning between the lush elegance of string-heavy shorter tracks and longer upbeat ones is an album positive. There’s all types of benefits to the different ways to weave an album’s tracks together into one satisfying whole, as well as an equal number of pitfalls. Jekabson got it right when he dispersed his tracks the way he did.
And continuing on that subject, the softness of “The Cello Player” leads into the get-started-on-your-day urgency of “To Be DeYoung Again,” Staccato notes from violin and trumpet with plenty of chipper joie de vivre. Stephen’s sax is alive-and-kicking, and Dobson just sounds like he’s having a ball on drums. It’s a tune that makes it increasingly simple to buy into its cheerfulness the longer it goes on.
The album ends with “Afternoon on the Sea, Monhegan.” It sounds a bit freer than the rest of the album. Sax bisects the rhythms, vibes peek out intermittently, the soft patter of percussion chatters nervously, and there is a sense of man-alone-on-the-open-sea that inspired the composition.
Really, just a wonderful album.
The album is Self-Produced, released under Jekab’s Music.
Jazz from the San Francisco scene.
Here’s a photo of the piece “Anti-Mass” that started the ball rolling on this project: