Sep 28 2014
With Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk across the expanse of New York City’s twin towers serving as both inspiration and lens, Jason Steele offers up Vol.1: Wirewalker… a mesmerizing series of vignettes that seek to give Steele’s interpretation of Petit’s feat. Jason Steele’s Messenger Collective have crafted a soundtrack to the retelling of a live event from long ago. These are songs of the present as accompaniment to images of the past, presented like chapters in a story, which play out with a cinematic series of transformations slowly revealed with the patience, precision and beauty of origami.
Most tracks are heavy with the cinematic atmosphere of a chamber jazz recording. The heart of this album is the trio “First Walk: Notre Dame,” “Second Walk: Sydney,” and “North/South Tower.” Their ominous tones and eccentric delivery are reminiscent of some of fellow guitarist Bill Frisell’s stranger periods, when oddball compositions of an exquisite beauty were informed by fearfulness and whimsy, both. Most notable is the compare and contrast between the guitar and violin of Steele and Emi Tanabe. Sometimes they cheerily romp about together and other times they adopt a solemn tone, but each time their emotional template is in synch. It’s a quality that resonates strongly when juxtaposed with the contrast in deliveries… one that is punctuated with carefully enunciated notes and the other that hums evenly and suddenly breaks into lofty expressions of song.
“Spy vs. Spy” is fueled by a strong dose of Brit-rock exuberance, and its pop music flair continues to influence even when the song discards its form and slowly disperses. “Prelude” applies a softer touch and displays more reserve, yet is no less compelling. The sway of Johnson’s bass arco is the driving force of this song’s easy-going motion.
James Davis’s trumpet often strikes the middle ground between guitar and violin, incorporating a bit of the qualities of each into his contribution. It’s best represented on “From the Rooftop of the World,” where he takes to soaring while also matching guitar’s rhythmic component. Taking into account Davis’s participation on Matt Ulery’s large ensemble chamber jazz projects, his inclusion for this session was a natural choice.
Steele incorporates elements from Petit’s life into the song. “Second Walk: Sydney” utilizes bass line notes from the Australian National Anthem, symbolizing Petit’s walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Similarly, the songs “North Tower” and “South Tower” are formed around time markings from the Petit documentary, Man on Wire. And “Through the Eyes of Annie Allix” adds spoken word to represent Petit’s girlfriend and her role in his adventures.
An absolutely gorgeous album.
Your album personnel: Jason Steele (guitar), Emi Tanabe (violin), James Davis (trumpet), and Douglas Johnson (bass).
Released on Altered Records.
Music from the Chicago scene.
As an aside, I highly recommend the documentary, Man on Wire. It’s absolutely fascinating. A great example of a documentarian taking an obscure event and revealing its significance in a way that’s both thoughtful and entertaining. Here’s a LINK to the movie site. It may or may not still be streaming on Netflix Instant.