Dec 24 2012
Working with two ensembles and constructing his album around his “Folk Art Suite,” saxophonist Jeremy Udden offers more of his fascinating blend of folk-jazz on 2012’s Folk Art. Udden’s Plainville ensemble albums are sublime recordings, sometimes slow and easy, sometimes deconstructed and free, but always the stuff of lazy afternoons spent on back porches.
A creative arc is apparent after three Plainville ensemble albums. The first of those recordings, the 2009 release titled Plainville, was full of the comfort of warm melodies and a cheerful banter of percussion. The second album, 2011’s If the Past Seems So Bright, toyed with the melodies a bit, rendering some of them less friendly than its predecessor, and giving a bit of darkness and edge to many of the tunes. On new album Folk Art, Udden not only continues on the path of disassembling those back porch serene tunes, but also with the configurations of the ensembles that portray them.
It displays yet more facets of Udden’s unequivocally singular and fascinating sound.
Your album personnel: Jeremy Udden (alto & soprano saxes), Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Jeremy Stratton (bass), Kenny Wolleson (drums) and Eivind Opsvik (bass), Pete Rende (Rhodes, Wurlitzer), Will Graefe (guitar), Nathan Blehar (guitar), RJ Miller (drums).
The album opens with “Prospect Part 1,” a mix of scattered percussion cut through with strings and buoyed with some inquisitive lines from sax. It’s an eerie sound hinted at in Udden’s previous two recordings, but now he’s putting it right up front. He’s made a statement that it’s not business as usual. A track like this was made for Wolleson’s percussion talents, with a similar touch being used on recordings by Bill Frisell and John Zorn… that right mix of the beautiful and the dangerous.
Second track “Train” has Graefe’s guitar plucking its way through a pleasant interlude. The tune’s gentle beauty is nice as a contrast to the dissonance of the previous tune, and also as a transition into the fuller, freer “Up.”
Third track “Up” continues the seemingly looser construction of tunes. Percussion and strings spill everywhere, bouncing off one another and crossing lines while sax skitters over the top. Seabrook has some ferocious moments on banjo, just flying through notes like a bat careening through a swarm of mosquitoes. It further demonstrates the distances the group stretches out to as they explore Udden’s folk jazz sound.
But the ensemble doesn’t forget to look back over its shoulder at what has come before. Fourth track “Portland” harks back to the previous two recordings. Languid sax lines, rustic strings like raindrops, and the gentle steady patter of drums.
“Dress Variation” is a two-and-half minute Blehar solo on a nylon-stringed guitar. It’s got soul, but it’s also got a dour disposition reminiscent of some of Leo Kottke’s darker tunes. It plays on the theme of “New Dress” (from If The Past Seems So Bright), while also serving as a wonderful transitional interlude between “Portland” and subsequent track “Alexander Part 2.” Udden’s fluttering sax lines twist around Stratton’s bass, while Wolleson adds chipper statements on drums. It’s a construct later revisited on “Our Hero,” but where “Alexander Part 2” goes out quietly, “Our Hero” brings a simmer to a boil, ending with a wash of sound.
“Bartok” displays the course Udden’s path has taken from the original Plainville. “Bartok” lays down a choppy cadence that many post-boppers utilize as they straddle the line between straight-ahead and modern avant-garde. The track sounds like an original model disassembled then reorganized into a new but familiar structure. It ain’t pretty, but it’s easy to see how it once was. It’s also a welcome development. As much as I freely rave of the sublime beauty of Plainville, it’s a healthy sign to see Udden experimenting with the formula in If The Past Seems So Bright and then breaking it down to its elements with Folk Art. It prevents things from getting stale. It also adds anticipation for what might come next.
The final two album tracks are “Jesse,” a growling tune that brings a lovely contrast between an earthy electric guitar and Udden’s fluttering alto sax. The album finale is “Thomas,” a track that was also featured on If the Past Seems So Bright. The current rendition falls right in line with the previous one. It also lines up well the music of the previous two recordings, so that even as Udden stretches further away from his starting point, he hasn’t lost sight from where he first began. It ties everything together nicely, and promotes a sense of both the new and the familiar. Just a great way to end this wonderful album.
Released on the Fresh Sounds Records label.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.