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Peter Epstein: Almas/Solus

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My ‘what I did during summer vacation’ essay would begin simply enough. “I listened to jazz.” I guess you can call what I listen too, ‘jazz.’ But then again, when is jazz not jazz? And can a jazz artist make a non-jazz record? Certainly, ask Miles Davis (sorry), ask Keith Jarrett and Wynton Marsalis, both have been exploring classical music most of their careers. Without re-igniting the ‘what is/is not jazz’ argument I venture into two recent discs by saxophonist Peter Epstein. Epstein, jazz musician has made two very Downtown records, Staring At The Sun and The Invisible with the all-star cast of Jamie Saft (piano/organ), Jim Black (drums), Chris Dahlgren (drums).

Epstein’s other life seems to be found in the semi-classical/classical-folk world. The same territory mined by Manfred Eicher’s ECM label. Typical ECM releases eschew swing for feeling. The American born Epstein is a sort of Jan Garbarek without the Euro-angst trip. His solo saxophone album, aptly titled Solus covers Bach, Verdi, Zarvos, and Epstein. I must excuse myself from any classical music discussion because well, this summer I only listen to jazz. Solus was recorded in the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, Italy. A perfect setting for the reverberant sound produced. Epstein doesn’t jazz the classics as much as play long flowing and intricate passages to create audio landscape portraits. Epstein’s circular breathing whirls ideas, not in jazz tradition strictly speaking, what he plays is music in an improvisatory sense. His improvisation on Bach extends Bach’s compositional logic (I call that jazz) and his own writing “The Quarrier’s Secret Lament” recalls John Lurie’s Down By Law soundtrack without the beats. Like recent recordings of Patrick Zimmerli, Epstein elongates thoughts and emotions. Let’s call it anti-Charlie Parker.

Teamed with Portuguese pianist Joao Paulo and bassist Carlos Bica, Epstein plays a mix of folk /classical/jazz and the mix is preferenced in that order. Recorded in a Lisbon Cathedral, the drummer-less trio obtains a rich sound, studio engineers salivate over. Paulo, like American Chick Corea, has the talents of a classical pianist, but the mind of a jazzman. His manner suggests the frolic over formalism, the main ingredient of both folk and jazz. Not that this isn’t a serious undertaking, Paulo and Epstein take off (in a classical sense) the lead voice. Paulo has created an authentic document of his native voice, a successful attempt at what those early Windham Hill records were striving to accomplish.

Track List Solus:Partita No. 2 in D Minor, for solo Violin, BMV 1004 1)Allemande 2)Corrente 3)Sarabanda 4)Giga; Improvisation; Pl; Life On Taggart Street; The Quarrier’s Secret Lament; Theme from la ‘Forza del Destino”; Stratifications; Long Ago; Solace.

Personnel: Peter Epstein

Record Label: MA Recordings

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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