Apr 27 2013
The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else, and which embrace the best qualities of creative vision.
When done right, it’s a fascinating experience to witness the fusion of disparate influences into one amalgamated whole. It’s a game of tug-of-war. With music, the ear is drawn to specific elements. Those elements, voluntarily or not, become the focus of the ear. If the musicians are only partially successful in merging them, specific elements become a refuge for the listener. They serve as foci to block out the aspects of the whole that don’t work as well… a sign that the music construct didn’t quite come together as intended. But when the musicians are successful, when that finished product appears as a singular object and not a construction of separate pieces, it becomes impossible to focus on any single aspect of the music for very long. The ear can’t give all its attention to one part, because the music’s beauty is so much more than one individual part and is perpetually drawn to both individual parts and back to the singular whole. Nothing can be enjoyed in isolation… it must always be listened to in the context of the universe that is a particular album. Otherwise, it just sounds incomplete.
This is not a new thought. But in the current modern jazz environment, where genres lines are constantly getting blurred, when the absorption of varied influences into Jazz compositions is a common approach, there is an increased danger of the examples of Nearly Successful diminishing the memory of how it feels to hear an album where individual influences are obliterated and all that’s left is a Sound that’s describable only by inadequately referencing solitary traits.
That’s what has shaken out with Sewn, the new release by Stirrup.
The trio of Fred Lonberg-Holm, Charles Rumback, and Nick Macri find the sweet spot between melodic and tumultuous. This is driving music. “The Profit of Field Stripping” has a tempo that won’t quit, that forges ahead without the respite of deceleration, and yet Lonberg-Holm’s cello lines sail peaceably atop the song’s crest.
Maybe this is Jazz, maybe it’s post-rock, maybe it’s a psych-rock fusion, maybe it’s true avant-garde, maybe it has a dash of folk, and maybe if stripped away of everything, a simple blues would be revealed. It is all of these things and, thus, ultimately, it is none of these things. This isn’t an innocuous blend of influences; it’s a distillation of ingredients into something with its own flavor and its own sound.
“Super Seeded” has Lonberg-Holm picking up a tenor guitar and leading the trio on a casual stroll. And even when he initiates a contortionist act on tenor guitar, Rumback and Macri keep things rooted in the easy gait of an afternoon walk through the park.
“Insen for Yonsei” has Rumback and Macri whipping about each other meditatively like drifts of autumn leaves across an empty parking lot. Lonberg-Holm, who has a deft touch on electronics to enhance his cello, swoops in and rides the cross-currents.
Lonberg-Holm’s cello howls up to the heavens loudest of the three on “Convulsive,” but it’s the pensive distress of Macri’s bass, barely a murmur, that is the defining sorrow of the tune.
The album opens with “In Zenith 1” and closes with “In Zenith 2.” Both tracks have Rumback pecking away at the rhythm on drums and Marci giving his bass a whimsical bounce, and while they each feature blistering sections by Lonberg-Holm, on the former of the two tracks, his cello offers up an invitation, and on the latter, he slams the door firmly shut.
One of those remarkable albums that everyone should give a shot, even though it’s likely not to connect with most. Music, that if it connects with a listener, it will hit hard and fast and forever.
Released on the 482 Music label.