Thursday, January 25, 2018

Steve Swell ‎– Music for Six Musicians: Hommage à Olivier Messiaen (Silkheart, 2017)

Olivier Messiaen was a French composer whose music was rich and complex, leaving a wide ranging impact on many aspects of jazz and improvised music. Trombonist and composer Steve Swell is one of many contemporary musicians that falls into this category and he has written a five track album that combines Messiaen’s themes and methods with his own approach to jazz and improvised music. He is joined in this album by Jason Kao Hwang on violin, viola and electronics, Thomas Ulrich on cello, Jim Pugilese on drums and percussion, Rob Brown on alto saxophone and Robert Boston on piano and organ. The music is nicely balanced between classically oriented string sections and full group and solo jazz improvisations. The music can become quite abstract at times with stark strings lurking and waves of organ rolling through the music as the brass and reed punch through, and the percussion accompaniment and soloing is never quite what you might expect. But at the same time, this isn’t some stiff and stodgy “third stream” experience, the music is up front and vibrant, providing an impressive amount of variety in tone and texture. The nearly twenty-five minute track "Opening" brings all of these ideas together in a suite within a suite of slashing then brooding strings, jazzy asides and elements of modern composition in a ever-evolving performance that blurs the line between jazz and classical music to the point where labels are erased. "Sextet for the End of Democracy" brings the focus of the composition around to modern day thematic material, allowing the political turmoil of the present time to fuel the performance of the music which is by turns haunting and harrowing, as the sounds clash and spark off of one another, offering opportunities for the musicians to make the most of the material and the sentiment. "Vautour Fauve" and "Joy and the Remarkable Behavior of Time" delve even deeper into the context of the music, encouraging the instrumentalists to bring their own ideas into the overarching theme of the music, allowing the music to flow from the ominous to the ecstatic within the overall group aesthetic, employing their ingredients for maximum effect within the concept, with the oblique strings, and freely improvising horns and percussion. The final track on the album, "Exit the Labyrinth" has the expansive focus that Olivier Messiaen found in his own musical universe from bird song to the music of other cultures. The whole band is together here, playing music that unfolds gradually, allowing the music to shine bright and thoughtful as it moves at its own pace, allowing inward looking introspection to co-exist with expansive freedom. Music for Six Musicians: Hommage à Olivier Messiaen - Silkheart Records

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