Nov 20 2015
Something old, something new, and the old given new life in a new set of clothes… that’s what you get with Follow the Stick, the latest from clarinetist Sam Sadigursky. In Jazz, there’s plenty of talk about the lineage of that genre, and how one sound evolves into the next… swing to be-bop to hard-bop to inside-out to avant-garde and on through post-bop and whatever amorphous genre-blending that is regarded as the predominant form of expression on the jazz landscape of today. But where Jazz capital-J can be viewed linearly, the fact is that it’s merely a composite of commonly agreed upon characteristics… traits used to define a particular form of expression at any one particular time and place. If an artist has the vision and the creative inspiration, they can pluck these ingredients from any place on the timeline they choose, and depending on the ratios built into the sonic equations put into play, very modern compositions can sound like Today, but exude the presence and behavior of something from a very young New Orleans-New York City-Chicago jazz age. On other projects, Sadigursky has displayed a talent for shaping the music of many eras, and it goes a long way to explaining why so many of the tracks on Follow the Stick are dead ringers for the traditional even though they rarely take a look back over the shoulder.
The blues swing of “Fast Money” makes a strong opening statement, but when the group soon after dives right into a melodic passage, it echoes strongly of the indie-rock jazz blend of the modern day. So, too, when a later expression of swing blues lets a Chris Dingman vibraphone solo veer into post-bop territory, with its wandering gaze and long-view of the melodic development.
Pianist Bobby Avey was an excellent choice for this project, as his own projects have displayed a hyper-reality take on old blues in new, nearly unintelligible expressions of piano language, much in the way new slang sounds muddled and confusing until it becomes absorbed into the mass consciousness of mutually accepted modes of communication… and slowly, suddenly, everyone is on the same page. On a track like “Do the Dance,” his ability to effortlessly shrug the sense of form from his shoulders before coalescing into a thick blues expression is the kind of behavioral trait that snaps right into place with Sadigursky and trumpeter Jason Palmer‘s take on the traditional.
There’s an excellent mix of up-tempo and contemplative tunes on this recording, and the stark difference between the tones of each category have the added bonus of seriously enhancing the innate qualities of their counterparts. And speaking to the strengths of this recording, the engaging nature of both the up and deep categories keep things right there in front of the listener, never allowing the up-tempo tracks to leave the listener behind staring at the back of the song’s head or the contemplative pieces from becoming so deeply contemplative that they fall into solitary reveries connecting with no one. “Austerity Measures” is a traditional sounding piece with a seaside blues ambiance meant for sitting in the shade on a Summer afternoon with a cold drink and watching the waves slowly lap against the shore. “Looks Can Be Deceiving” is a ballad rich with heartbreak and a saving leap of faith that, one day, everything will be okay again. “Reach” is a little bit of each as it goes about displaying the underlying power of a murmur before going up in flames. Each of them are beautiful in their own way, and all three bring it with all kinds of feel.
Drummer Jordan Perlson is the trail guide on this recording. He ushers each song from start to finish in a seemingly straight-forward fashion, while unobtrusively accentuating all the slopes and bumps and detours built into the framework of the compositions and the fallout from the solos. Attesting to his talent in this role is the lovely tangle of “Life’s Flowering,” a song that bubbles to life at unexpected moments and explodes with sudden blooms and unfolding melodicism.
Further attesting to Sadigursky’s talent at forging a convergence between old and new is his take on “String of Pearls.” He flips the song on its head, and runs it down in a direction opposite that of Benny Goodman. Instead of swing, the motion surges, and instead of dance floor cheer, the tone is one of sit back cerebral. And yet, despite the alternate route taken, Sadigursky keeps the song’s origins out front, undisguised, and doing very little to obstruct the warmth of familiarity.
The album ends with “Math Music,” an affable tune that closes things out much in the same way they began. But where album opener “Fast Money” set down firm roots in traditional territory, Sadigursky brings down the curtain with a tune that takes its breaths with a cadence more suited to today’s jazz-indie rock environs.
You really need to pick this one up. It’s a whip-smart album that sees the value of fun, and gets the most out of both qualities.
Your album personnel: Sam Sadigursky (clarinet, bass clarinet), Chris Dingman (vibes, marimba), Bobby Avey (piano), Jordan Perlson (drums, percussion) and guests: Jason Palmer (trumpet) and Ljova (viola).
Released on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.
Listen to more album tracks on the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from NYC.