Apr 16 2013
The last time cellist Will Martina got together with the trio of pianist Jason Lindner and drummer Richie Barshay, they created the 2011 release The Dam Levels, an unconventional cello-led trio that sounded remarkably like a modern straight-ahead jazz recording. And though it didn’t much swing, there was plenty of rhythms to bop the head along to in a structure of delineated melodies. It was a powerful statement about the potential of cello as a plausible game-player in the modern jazz environment.
Now, returning with the same trio for the 2013 release Modular Living By Design, Martina expands on previous statement by pushing the envelope by straying from jazz’s center but remaining in sight. Whereas on The Dam Levels, the journey seemed predicated on the rhythmic structures, on Modular Living By Design, the mode of travel is via strong melodies… and from there, the inventive use of rhythm just falls into place.
Your album personnel: Will Martina (cello), Jason Lindner (piano, Rhodes), Richie Barshay (drums, percussion), and guests: Jorge Continentino (soprano sax), Mark Kelley (bass), and Gregoire Maret (harmonica).
Opening track “Strung Out Night Light” begins with a pulsating melody stated in harmony by Martina on cello and guest soprano saxophonist Jorge Continentino. But as the song proceeds, it becomes something of a throwback to The Dam Levels. It thrashes about at times, tempo and intensity rising, even as guest bassist Mark Kelley teams with Barshay’s drums to entrench a groove into the song’s underside. The song doesn’t completely belong on the previous album, doesn’t completely belong on the newest… by itself, a nice opening track, and for those familiar with Martina’s previous release, it has the additional value as effective transition between recordings… something of a “… seen on the last episode of…” effect.
However, second track “Modular Living” gets down to current business. It begins with a contemplative tone, stamped in place with some powerful statements by Lindner on piano. And then, with Martina taking on the role of bass player and Barshay modulating the cadence on drums, the trio slips into a thick groove. Some growl, a tiny bit of ferocity, and the kind of self-contained intensity that brings heat without causing burns. It’s a phenomenal midstream quick-change… alone, a nice moment, but remarkably, that trend continues.
Third track is a rendition of the Bon Iver song “Michicant.” It stays true to the original, opening with a ballad-like grace. Lindner’s piano with a few simple statements, Barshay’s drums a gentle patter in the background. Martino states the melody, a languid expression of beauty. Then it, too, slips into a groove… though this one has a lighter touch… a lullaby that one could dance to.
Fourth track “Little Meow” lets Martina stretch out some. Beginning peaceably in duo between Martina and Barshay trading beats, Lindner steps in and gets things going melodically, and stretches out a bit himself. Eventually, when Martina steps back into the spotlight, he conjures a tempest on cello.
Fifth track is the second of two tracks that add guest musicians to the trio. Maret leads out on harmonica, and Martina let him keep the lead from gate to finish line. Lindner balances out the harmonica’s brightness with some darker shading on piano.
“Thanks, Henry” opens with piano out front, Martina serving as defacto bass player. The trio exudes serenity. Barshay and Lindner trade some rhythmic quips here and there, interesting chatter delivered under their breath.
The album ends with even more serenity. “Good Night and Good Luck” has Martina offering languid notes on cello. Percussion and Rhodes are like the twinkling light of far-away stars. And just in the way that the opening track signaled the beginning of the transition from the sound of The Dam Levels to Martina’s current vision, “Good Night and Good Luck” symbolizes the finality of that change… a lovely drifting melody, a tranquil ambiance and an unhurried cadence.
The album is Self-Produced.
Originally from Australia, Martina is now calling the Queens, NY scene as his own.
Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist. And here’s what I wrote in my Editor’s Comments, back when I was the AAJ download of the day editor:
Highly recommended. I bought this album pretty much immediately. One of those albums that, on its face, seems like a straightforward affair, but it differs just a bit in a very essential way as to make it a reflection of conventional jazz. Just as a reflection of an image on the water’s surface is even more compelling than the image itself, so is my reaction to The Dam Levels.