Friday, October 22, 2021

Nick Fraser Quartet - If There Were No Opposites (Ezz-thetics Records, 2021)

This is a very interesting inside - outside modern jazz record featuring Nick Fraser on drums, Tony Malaby on saxophones, Andrew Downing on cello and Rob Clutton on bass. On this album, Fraser draws on some compositions he has written for dance troupes and others designed expressly for improvisation. "Improvisation (Part 1)" develops strong bass notes and raw saxophone playing, as the cello and percussion push the music into longer tones. Swirling cello and saxophone open "Sketch #50," leading to pulsing bass and drums to complete the sound. Malaby's scalding saxophone ups the ante leading to a wild ride for the full band. "Shoe Dance" uses slinky bass and drums to develop a very interesting feel, as is should considering Fraser had written the piece for a production of Romeo and Juliet. Malaby strikes out with a gritty saxophone solo that breaks the spell, before returning to the gracefully swinging melody. From here the music moves into a more abstract direction with "Table 49, The Rex Hotel, Toronto" using quietly squeaking reed and shimmering cymbals to set the scene. The saxophone slowly picks up the pace in the company of bowed cello which gradually fills in the sound. Stronger drumming and bowed playing boosts the tempo of the performance, leading to the saxophone developing a more strident form of improvisation. "The Bulldog And The Capricorn" a composition dedicated to Tony Malaby and pianist Kris Davis develops gradually, beginning with the juxtaposition of deep toned bass and lightly played saxophone. The group comes together very well in a tightly woven mesh of instruments, bass, feathered drumming, restrained saxophone and cello. Clutton provides a fine bass solo followed by the saxophone storming back in with throbbing drum support. Another piece that Fraser wrote for a dance situation, "The Fashion Show" starts in a surprising fashion, with a stark free improvisational sound, collective improvisation raw and Ayler like, before dropping back into a more restrained format with open space and near classical sound. Cello and gentle reed playing close the piece at the polar opposite of the opening. "Improvisation (Part 2)" is the second half of a long piece split into two, and this side has a solid bass and drums foundation, allowing gnarly saxophone and swooping cello to lift up the performance into a higher strata entirely. This album worked very well, it's clear that the musicians know each other well, having played and recorded together since 2012. They are equally comfortable playing melodic or freely improvised material and they do so with great skill. If There Were No Opposites - Squidco

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