Jan 23 2014
Andrea Keller Quartet – “Wave Rider”
Australian pianist Andrea Keller presented an exquisite touch and evocative sound on previous albums, but on her newest, Wave Rider, she adds a string section to her working quartet, and the result is an absolutely gorgeous and thrilling album.
The album was released near the tail end of 2013, and it was an outstanding way for a jazz fan to wrap that year up.
The album opens as if setting a scene, with the burgeoning intensity of “From Nature’s Fabric” showcasing the piano quartet’s ability to gain a huge emotional impact out of a display of tension and restraint, further evidencing it by following with “Ingress,” which seamlessly incorporates the string quartet’s various rhythmic and melodic facets within trumpet’s harmonic presence. “Queen for Tea I” is a continuation of this interaction, but trumpet begins to assert itself here, switching places with strings, which shift more to an accompaniment role.
And it’s on the fourth track, “Waves I,” where this album has left the exposition stage and now gets right to the conflict of the story. Keller murmurs on piano, responding to the whispers of strings. It’s a brooding tune with an ominous tone, and even when there’s a spike of intensity, it still behaves as a precursor to something more.
Something more is “Illumination,” the first moment when the entire ensemble coalesces into an expression of song form and motion. Clarion calls by Ball and Whitehurst on trumpet and sax soar above Keller and Talia setting a rhythmic landscape on piano and drums. Strings work the territory in between the two, adding a rhythmic component while also enhancing the surging motion of trumpet and sax. And, delightfully, a song that speeds right along has a wind-down that floats gently, lovingly back to earth.
And that marked the spot where the album’s songs had a more definitive structure… a quality with a heightened gratification due to the opening stanzas’ predisposition to an ethereal formlessness. For instance, a track like “Mister Music,” which accentuates the octet’s ability to glide through tempo changes on the wings of harmonic bridges, has that much more presence due to the tone of the album’s opening tracks.
A pattern begins to develop with “Reflection,” as the album moves back to a state of sonic musing, letting sounds disperse with a freedom that is positively arresting. “Reflection” pairs quavering strings with probing trumpet notes, and piano glittering like a galaxy of stars. “Patience” has Keller standing alone in the spotlight voicing quiet thoughts on piano, later joined by sax and trumpet offering up their own expressions, delivered patiently and with the deliberation of moonlight slowly covering the earth.
The interlude “Queen for Tea II” features saxophonist Whitehurst in a melodic display that meshes attractively with the string quartet’s frenetic accompaniment. This leads to another short piece, “Waves II,” which gets strings back out front of the stage, providing the direction and the acceleration.
The album begins the homestretch with “Breathing In,” an extended piece that develops an infectious cadence that provides a welcoming environment for musicians to solo over. Strings, again, display their invaluable contribution of thick harmonic waves that benefit both the melodic development and the tempo. As session leader, Keller is unselfish with sharing time in the spotlight, and this is one of the rare times that she allows herself to really stretch out and raise up above the ensemble.
The lovely strings-sax duo of “Wave Rider” is followed up by the engrossing strings-piano conversation of “Queen for Tea III,” and then the thrilling dissonant cacophony of “Queen for Tea IV,” which provides some satisfying contrast to the previous tracks.
The album ends with “Egress,” a return to form of the album’s opening track, but with a stronger presence and point of view. The ensemble finishes things out in unison, providing a nifty sense of finality.
As I said in the opening, this album came out late in 2013… after I’d already constructed my Best of 2013 list. Had I heard this earlier, it absolutely would have rated highly. As it is, my Best Of lists tend to run November to November, so expect Wave Rider to receive strong consideration on my Best of 2014 list.
Your album personnel: Andrea Keller (piano), Eugene Ball (trumpet), Ian Whitehurst (tenor saxophone), Joe Talia (drums), Erkki Veltheim (violin), Helen Ayers (violin), Matt Laing (viola), and Zoe Knighton (cello).
Released on the Jazzhead label.
Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Melbourne, Australia scene.
Oct 16 2014
Recommended: Rafael Karlen – “The Sweetness of Things Half-Remembered”
Easily the best part of this gorgeous chamber jazz recording is the way in which compositions sculpt a supreme elegance while allowing improvisors the freedom to do their own thing. It blurs the lines between planned arrangement and spur-of-the-moment inspiration, and it’s why The Sweetness of Things Half-Remembered can spark with lively engagement while simultaneously crafting a structural beauty that results in one jaw-dropping moment after the next.
The musician who sets all this in motion is saxophonist and composer Rafael Karlen. And though his instrument is most often at the center of things, the roles played by pianist Steve Newcomb and the Rosenberg String Quartet are as essential to the foundation of this recording as is Karlen’s own contributions. It is where the subtraction or weakening of any ensemble member would cause the entire ball of loveliness to come unraveled into insubstantiality and mess.
Some tracks go with an impressionist’s touch. “Stark Colours” has strings painting with broad strokes and sax shading the edges with bold, thick lines. “Fade Slowly” are wind-blown ripples on the surface of a pond, forever spreading outward from the center. On “Outlines,” violins and piano travel disconnected but similar paths, providing both a sense of cohesion and detachment, as well as an essential contrast with those compositions that offer up clockwork-precise harmonies.
One such composition is “Clutch,” in which saxophone and strings take turns dancing in place as the other circles gracefully about, with the brightest moments coming when they fall into synch and reveal the heavenly melodicism hidden within their intoxicating motion. “Bounces Nicely” instigates an urgent tempo to which Karlen skips sunny phrases across. Opening track “If Not Now, When?” is a series of sweeping dance motions, with sax, piano and strings acting in unison.
And then there are those few tracks that incorporate both approaches. The two-part title-track does exactly this, opening with vague allusions to a cohesive harmonic structure, interspersed with brief asides to a possible melody. When the song transitions to Part 2, that melodic fragment takes bloom and expands into the basis for what is, arguably, the prettiest tune on the album. Melancholy and wistful, yet revealing a diverse array of glittering emotional hints that run deeper than mere sadness and longing. Karlen’s long saxophone sighs match those of strings, while Newcomb touches upon brighter tones and resurgent rhythmic patterns that imply that there’s plenty of life under the somber exterior. Strings and sax both modulate from long, slow expressions to ones with a furtive activity level… and then glide back into languorous motions that capture the essence of pure serenity.
This is a perfect album.
Your album personnel: Rafael Karlen (tenor sax), Steve Newcomb (piano), Rebecca Karlen (violin), Eugenie Costello-Shaw (violin), Alice Buckingham (viola), and Danielle Bentley (cello).
This Self-Produced album was released on Pinnacles Music.
Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Brisbane, Australia scene.
Available at: Bandcamp | Amazon
By davesumner • Jazz Recommendations, Jazz Recommendations - 2014 Releases • 0 • Tags: Brisbane (Australia), Jazz with strings, Rafael Karlen, Self-Produced