Feb 16 2016
What a rich tapestry Julian Shore has woven. His new release Which Way Now? is a series of gorgeous, draw-dropping moments of jarring beauty. The avenue Shore’s ensemble traverses to achieve these moments is a construct immediately identifiable in the opening track. The emerging sunrise warmth of strings on “Our Story Begins On A Mountain,” in which the gentle raindrops of Shore’s piano pelt the surface of sighing harmonies points to a symbiosis of grand majesty, quiet thoughtfulness and humble beauty. This is a potent combination of qualities, not easily attained, and it’s certainly something very rarely done to such a degree of success.
The title-track is no different in that regard, though how it goes about achieving this mark is night and day apart. Shore’s quintet takes turns delivering one excellent solo after the other, which in itself is a pretty gripping series of passages, but what makes this such a fascinating tune is how Shore surrounds those solos with an inexhaustible supply of distractions… the pitter-patter trade of rhythmic nuance between piano and drums, the soft whispers of cymbals blending in with the hush of saxophone harmonies, the swirling piano lines circling the soaring contrails of saxophone solos, the deep voice of bass sometimes as an undercurrent of piano’s melodic incursions and sometimes as the driving force of guitar’s lyrical expansions. This enchanting song leaves the ear transfixed from any number of focal points, ever moving, ever changing, a kaleidoscopic beauty where the only constant is that everything is unfolding all at once. It is the sense of many conversations occurring simultaneously, all of them enchanting in their own special way, and, inexplicably, all of them coming together at an array of meeting points and common grounds. The song possesses no bombast. It doesn’t shoot for the horizon with dramatic, showy statements. It keeps things close to the vest, and by doing so, all of those moving parts woven together in just the right spots resonates powerfully.
The folksy charm of “Back Home,” with its conversant chatter and sweet, simple melody is a winning formula, and is further evidence of Shore’s talent for making massive statements with an unassuming sonic personality, as if a tune were carried softly on the shoulders of giants. The way Michael Thomas’s alto flute coos out tendrils of melody and slipped in between the thicker brush strokes from the saxophones is positively captivating. “Moss, Mansion, Sandstorm” charts a similar course to that of the title-track, but approaches things from a rhythmic perspective. It goes a long way to explaining why even the album’s sole vocal track “Alpine” is almost stunning just by way of its simplicity. And “Across the Ice” launches from that same point and slowly builds back up to the gorgeous complexities that mark so much of this recording… most notably in the way the staggered cadence gives the impression of melodic fragments overlain at irregular intervals, and how that provides an infusion of tension at a time when it’s so easy to just allow the hypnotic progression to continue unabated.
The cries of pedal steel and the personable twang of dobro grace the tuneful “Pine Needles.” Guest Noah Preminger’s tenor sax is a friendly smile to accompany the piano’s firm handshake, and though chipper and lively, the song is thick with the atmosphere of seaside languor, of waves lapping against the shore and seagulls crying out overhead. And even as the rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” is a different kind of atmosphere altogether, Shore’s ensemble infuses it with a casual disposition not that far removed from the gently swaying “Pine Needles.” And these, too, are eclipsed in turn by the peacefulness of “All Heart,” a duet of Shore on Wurlitzer and Preminger on clarinet.
The album ends things with “Lullaby (From Clair De Lune),” a final serenade of tranquility, pulling the curtain down on one remarkable, gorgeous recording.
Your album personnel: Julian Shore (piano, wurlitzer), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Colin Stranahan (drums), Godwin Louis (alto sax), Aidan Carroll (bass) and guests: Noah Preminger (tenor sax, clarinet), Jorge Roeder (bass), Godwin Louis (alto sax), Kurt Ozan (dobro, pedal steel, guitar), Samuel Torres (percussion), Michael Thomas (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute), Michael Mayo, Alexa Barchini (voice) and unattributed string section.
Released on Tone Rogue Records.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.