The Safety Net: Araxi Karnusian’s Strange Sounds Beautiful Music – “Interrupted”

The distant clanging of metal and the jangle of bells, high-pitch warped notes on woodwind, and then the violins and oboe join in.  Piano breaks through the dissonance with a few choice words, clearing the path for a team of saxophones to comfortingly announce that there are many aspects to beauty.  It’s an honest opening statement, and it’s nowhere close to being the only facet of this ridiculously beautiful album.

Multi-reedist Araxi Karnusian leads the Strange Sounds Beautiful Music ensemble, a nonet.

Your album personnel:  Araxi Karnusian (tenor sax, alto clarinet, compositions), Jürg Bucher (tenor sax, bass clarinet, contra alto clarinet), Michael Beck (piano), Daniel Schlaeppi (bass), Dominic Egli (drums, percussion), Simon Heggendorn (violin), Tobias Preisig (violin), David Schneebeli (viola), and Bruno Fischer (violoncello).

On eMusic, I previously wrote, “Despite this album’s massive presence, there is an overarching sense of solitary quietness to the compositions, like immersing oneself into deep thought on a very crowded and noisy street.”  Some music is like that for me, but rarer for me to encounter it in the Jazz genre.  Another jazz musician who does that for me that immediately springs to mind is Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle.  Like Interrupted, Jordan’s Night of the Mark VII and Magic in Munich had an intensity to their presence which was enhanced the quieter they became.

Another selling point for me on Interrupted is the vacillation between serenity and discord.  To deeply breathe in languid moments of soaring violin & sax notes just to have the breath knocked right back out of me with those same instruments striking my ears with dissonance and horror movie tension, that type of emotional push-and-pull is right up my alley, and Karnusian’s precision on the timing of those swings is one of this album’s very best qualities.

Interrupted is presented in three parts (Part 1, followed by Part 3, then Part 2; I couldn’t find anything written about why they were ordered that way, though logically, as beautiful as this album is, it may be just because that was how the music best flowed).

Part 1 is typified by equal amounts jazz and classical.  Strings and sax take turns in the spotlight, and the mood shifts between anticipatory and hopeful.  Strings take charge on the opening tracks, sharp staccato notes, the promise of things to come.  When the woodwinds hit the floor, they soar straight up and balance the string’s tension with their own personal warmth.

Part 3 opens with ominous slashing notes of strings and woodwinds that would indicate bad times ahead for Janet Leigh.  Then silence. which is almost immediately broken by a hopping bass clarinet solo that growls for a nice little stretch before the whole ensemble joins in and helps carry the weight of keeping things frantic and harried.  The tempo builds as the tension rises, strings rising up the register and woodwinds not far behind.  Piano is a rainstorm through all of it.  Strings continue as a de facto Norman Bates.  The greater the tension on Part 3, the freer the compositions become.  Instruments don’t wander too far that they leave the reservation, but Karnusian gives them plenty of room to roam.  Drums and percussion are the electric blender, and strings and woodwinds and piano and bass careen enthusiastically about.

After a brief interlude of lullaby strings and piano, the ensemble begins holding hands again, playing nice together, and sounding more lighthearted than at any other time in Part 3.  All is well again, and Part 3 ends with drums bringing enough heat to blister the heart of winter.

Part 2 (the third of three parts on the album) starts soft with a tiny piano motif played beneath the gentle hum of strings.  The intensity builds, but not uncomfortably; similar to pleasant shock of first contact with the cool side of the pillow.  As Part 2 develops, strings and woodwinds team up for some deliriously languid moments of serenity.  When they stop, piano breaks in with jaunty opening lines, like rays of sunlight breaking through stormy clouds.  The piano’s glorious mood is infectious, because saxes and strings gravitate to piano and all as one they are a spark of cheerful melancholy.  The rhythm section keeps thing chipper and bright.  As Part 2, and the album, draws to a close, the ensemble plays with clockwork precision as they count down the seconds ’til the final note.

I only discovered Interrupted about a month ago.  I am totally addicted to it.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Released in 2007 on the YVP Music label.

Jazz from Switzerland.

Available at:  eMusic MP3 |  Amazon MP3