Monday, April 06, 2020

CD Review - Landline

Another release from late last  year that should be noticed now.

(Loyal Label)

It sounds like a crazy concept for a musical project. Or one so esoteric that it might only appeal to the performers and their close supporters. Four musicians get together for a project where no one, absolutely not one of them, is a leader. Each of them has two weeks to compose a piece. They can use any medium to compose it - standard notation, graphic scoring or whatever. Upon the two week deadline, the music is passed along to another band member, who can add to it, change it or leave it alone. Then it gets passed to the next player. Everyone gets to initiate an idea and serve as second, third or fourth person on the other player's works. The process is inspired by the kid's game "Telephone," where information gets reshaped with every person it passes through. The band name Landline riffs on the Telephone concept.

The egalitarian quartet consists of Chet Doxas (tenor saxophone), Jacob Sacks (piano), Zack Lober (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), who have come up with an album that never allows the listener to settle easily into any situation for very long. Instead, the album feels like a 12-part suite where even the lines between the pieces get blurred, adding to the intrigue of the whole thing. "Michael Attias" begins in tribute to its namesake's dexterity at playing piano and saxophone simultaneously with an out of tempo unison line that later gets played in a canon over a chugging rhythm section. Without looking at the CD player, it's hard to tell where it ends and "Modern Jazz" begins, with its piano and tenor alternately playing close together and in opposition over a rigid pulse.

Short pieces act as interludes, revealing that the band realized that laying out can be as effective as playing. At least one track last around just a minute or so, and several don't end so much as merely stop. Sacks plays mostly single notes in "Crystalline," waiting until they've completely decayed before striking the next key. The rest of the group sits this one out, leaving his sparse approach to fill the room, albeit sparingly. Next up, "Feel the Bernstein" finds him playing a dislocated Monk lines over steady rhythm section before Doxas enters gruffly, eventually joining him in a theme.

"12 Years" sounds like an Wayne Shorter abstraction from a mid '60s Miles Davis album, with Sperrazza simply rolling on the cymbals while Doxas plays long tones. In "Shiny Things," the saxophonist simply toys with the pads on his horn without blowing a pitch, and Lober takes the most prominent role in the languid scene. To prove that the band can come together and groove, they follow this track with "After the Money" which has a loose-limbed groove making it move.

Only half of the quartet's 24 pieces appear on this album, which means there is very likely going to be a sequel in the offing. Landline is one of those rare albums where the journey feels just as exciting as the destination. Maybe that is esoteric after all, but it's esoteric in the non-pejorative sense.

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