Jul 29 2016
The impression made by Looking North is a gradual one, and forces it to happen from a distance. When opening track “Unringing a Bell” first presents itself, it’s with an impenetrable structure that doesn’t really seem to have the goal of establishing a connection in mind, and the rules for engagement aren’t so clearly drawn. But then, as it grows older, the song enters into a deeply melodic passage and suddenly that gulf between instrument and ear is no distance at all… ending, even, with a playful flurry. And while it won’t be for several more tunes before the essential patterns of this solo piano session from Bryan Nichols emerge and reveal the album’s striking personality as one of duality, the fact is that the opening track has already planted the seed.
It’s followed up by the beautiful “Lonesome Tremolo Blues,” a track that finds a deep pool of melody and spends its five minute duration gyrating fluidly. There are a few splashes of dissonance, but those are eclipsed by a clear melodic imagery. “Fractures” is stark and austere and the melody is implied, not expressed. If the previous song’s melodic imagery was one of water, then this song is a vast desert that defines it as an oasis. Sometimes the sands cycle and swirl in patterns reminiscent of swimming, but for the most part, the melody is scattered across the surface of the song, direction giving way to randomness, tranquility subsumed by soberness. It’s when the concept of a concise, shapely melody returns on fourth track “We Build and Destroy” that the album’s alternating pattern of compact melody vs. impact melody reveals itself. That same melodic shift happens within each song, too, but it’s the transitions from song to song that truly manifest their definition and their presence and their will.
The characteristic of duality is best on display on successive tracks “Act Natural” and “Very Low Impact.” They are exactly and precisely different, as if staring at each other from opposite sides of the same mirror. Where the former is in-your-face, the latter prefers to back off long enough for calmer melodies to prevail.
The one outlier to the album’s pattern recognition is a rendition of Dave King’s “Lullaby for Sharks,” and it’s offered up with such a quaint, tuneful presentation that it actually sits plumb with the rest of the album just fine, thank you very much.
A nicely expressive album that lets the tiny details be the music’s fireworks.
Your album personnel: Bryan Nichols (piano).
Released on Shifting Paradigm Records.
Listen to more album tracks at the label’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Minneapolis, MN scene.