Saturday, November 25, 2017

Nick Fraser - Is Life Long? (Clean Feed, 2017)

An experienced drummer and composer, Nick Fraser has played with a wide range of jazz luminaries in addition to leading his own projects. On this album he leads a quartet along with Tony Malaby on saxophones, Andrew Downing on cello and Rob Clutton on bass. The album opens with "Quicksand" which features long tones of saxophone met by droning bows and brushes, finally coalescing into a river of ominous sound. Malaby's saxophone becomes slow and mournful, as the cello and bass keep pace, before the group suddenly breaks into a fully improvised section, led by swooping and snapping strings. There is a cracking drumbeat and raw strings, with ripe and potent sax engaging them all in a collective dialogue that raises the pace and volume. This is followed by "Disclosure," riding thick bass and high pitched saxophone into the light, creating nimble interplay with quick flutters and bleats of sound, the instruments grinding and wheeling around one another as if it were a vast musical machine. The music finally breaks out into a scalding improvised section, with withering saxophone, taut strings and skittering drums. "Empathy" opens with strings playing in a stoic bowed fashion, accompanied by tenor saxophone, fleshing out Fraser's atmospheric composition, as the music moves gracefully forward. The full band come together as one organism, engaged in the music and the moods it is creating, as raw saxophone and bowed instruments stride aside fractured rhythm. There is a subtle melody with brushes strings and harmonizing horns on "Skeleton." Resonant bowed bass supports he group, as the cello dances between bass and percussion, constantly in motion and moving back to a thoughtfully presented quartet arrangement, one that allows a much deserved saxophone feature that Malaby lashes forward with strong intent. "Arachnid" presents music that is buzzing and grows via snappy drumming alongside tight saxophone and strings. Thick bulbous bass and clattering drumming add wit to the performance while the cello develops wry commentary. Malaby breaks out with another great blustery saxophone solo, his playing dark toned and fierce. There is a strong collective improvisation with space for cello to drop curtains of sound, sprinting to the finish. Finally, "The Predictor" closes the album, building a soft slight opening for spare light saxophone with feathery drumming in open space. The music is calm and spare, with the instruments in space evoking moans of cello and saxophone like lost spirits in the void. Soft saxophone swirls and eddies pivot around drums and strings, and the music develops in pace and volume making for an excellent improvised section, emotionally dense and packed with information. This was a very solid album, Fraser's use of cello and bass allows for the development of some interesting, wide ranging textures and the emotional resonance of Tony Malaby's saxophones makes for an excellent foil for the strings and drums. Is Life Long? -

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