The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series which highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.
During a rehearsal one day, collaborators Eivind Opsvik and Jacob Sacks began one of those conversations built on the standard hypothetical What-Would-You-Do. It quickly became much less than hypothetical.
Determining that they both wished to record with legendary drummer Paul Motian, they resolved to quickly make this wish a reality. They brought Motian into the recording studio, rounded out the quartet with the strings of Mat Maneri, had a set of compositions to use as a framework but left plenty of room for improvisation. They recorded the album in less than six hours, had it mixed the next day.
The result is a cryptically intriguing album, one whose music embodies the dream-into-reality inspiration of the recording.
Listening to this album is like watching a person who is fast asleep and deep into dreams.
On “Evening Kites,” when Sacks plays short simple statements on piano and Maneri’s violin wavers tenderly, while Opsvik’s bass is a heart at peace with its own beat and Motian’s drumwork the audio embodiment of the Sandman’s dust, the tunes are the sleeper peacefully at rest having dreams undisturbed by fright or flight.
Or on a track like “Funny Shoes,” where Sacks piano lines have a puckish mischief about them, egged on by Motian’s sly antagonism on drums, the dream has the sleeper on a harmless adventure of doubtful virtue.
With “Simple Song,” it’s easy to picture reliving a childhood dream of marching through fields of magnificent toys and spectacular candy, all just from Opsvik’s ecstatic bass lines setting a tone of unabashed wonderment through young eyes.
The title track “Two Miles A Day” is a dreamer steeped in unease… not yet in nightmare, but damn close to its borders. Motian’s fearful lightning drum solo starts it off, but Maneri’s dark woods strings conjures up all the ominous sensations one would need to keep looking back over one’s shoulder.
Album opener “Ha!” is fraught with worry as the dreamer shifts and struggles in sleep. Maneri’s sharp angular lines like the teeth of wolves, Motian’s drums the thump of inhuman feet, piano notes from Sacks dark clouds forming overhead, and Opsvik a sourceless growl and sneer.
The album ends with “Savile Road,” somewhat fittingly, the most straight-ahead jazz piece on the album, and in many ways, the perfect place for a jazz dreamer to end the night of sleep.
This is an album that flirts with jazz and folk. At times, it comes close to an ECM-like world jazz, other times the Appalachia-influence of modern folk in the jazz sphere. Comparable to the recent Jeff Cosgrove project Motian Sickness, whose album For the Love Of Sara, coincidentally, features the music of Paul Motian and the performance of Mat Maneri. Two Miles a Day has that same ephemeral magic, that same rustic sensibility, but presented in this quartet’s unique voice. A lovely album.