The Safety Net: Jean-Marc Foltz – “To the Moon”

The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series which highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.



It’s easy to make assumptions.  The premise of To the Moon is that three musicians planned to get into the studio for a recording session of completely improvised music, which they wanted to possess an other-worldly sound.  It wouldn’t be out of line for someone to conclude that this would be free jazz that dealt in cacophony, dissonance, and a music geometry that precluded definition.  And there’d have been nothing wrong with the album had it been exactly that.  Improvised music, especially when several voices join in, it can be just as jumbled and awkward and tangential as any normal discussion between a group of people who sit down in a room and begin talking.

But the thing of it is, improvised music can take any form, and just as it’s possible for three strangers to have a convivial, tempered conversation at the drop of a dime, so it holds that a clarinet, cello, and piano can do the same, were they to come together at a recording studio in Minneapolis on a cold winter day and begin playing.

This is one of those conversations.  And it’s a truly beautiful thing to hear.

Your album personnel:  Jean-Marc Foltz (clarinets), Matt Turner (cello), and Bill Carrothers (piano).

This is thoughtful music.  This is music that possesses a distant beauty, like stars on dark night far away from the city lights, inspiring admiration and ruminations on their majestic power.

Foltz makes his clarinets heard as if emanating from the darkness, seen but not heard, felt but not touched.  The deeper the register, the more soulful his sound, and also the more mysterious.  On the track “To Columbine,” his clarinet stays to the background, yet its presence is most pronounced each time he offers up an unhurried sanguine note.  And when he takes the lead, as he does on “Prayer,” he takes deliberate steps that possess a restraint even when a route is chosen that leads away from the established path.

Pianist Carrothers has developed an elegantly understated tone over the course of his career, making some intriguing inroads with solo performances.  His particular style works to great effect here, imbuing the music with a detached warmth, a quiet nobility that enhances the music’s airy touch, but keeps things close to the earth and prevents it from getting so atmospheric that it becomes insubstantial.  On “A Pale Washerwoman,” Carrothers ties knots around Turner’s thick cello lines, providing a context in which they flourish.

Turner’s cello was such a wise inclusion for this recording.  By its very nature, cello has a dreamy sound to it, and on a track like “Crosses,” where Carrothers slowly builds up to a dramatic point and Foltz shrieks and howls on clarinet, Turner’s immaculate sound on cello is like water washing over scarred rock, filling in spaces, smoothing over rough edges, and making everything cool and clear and new again.  On “Old Pantomimes,” Turner’s slow luxuriant notes give voice to the sound of moonlight.

A few tracks get the heart rate up a bit.  “Gallows Song” begins with a cello that has a bit of anxiousness coloring the edges of the notes, piano with short bursts of twittering notes, and clarinet slashing across the cello’s path at opposite angles.  They continue this pattern, working themselves up into a fervor that ends only when the song reaches its conclusion and the trio goes out like a skittering church mouse.

And then there’s songs like “Knitting Needles,” with its low pulse on clarinet and piano, and a high pitch on cello, stoking imagery of Norman Bates prowling to an eerie groove.  But even here, the music doesn’t become untethered from the album’s ethereal moodiness.

In the album liner notes, there’s mention that Foltz commented that the music from this session took them right to the moon.  Based on the album’s other-worldly sound, and its distantly beautiful qualities, it appears that’s exactly what happened.

Recorded in 2008, and released in 2010 on the Ayler Records label.

Available direct from Ayler Records.

Also, Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3