Tucked away in Santa Barbara, California, tenor saxophonist Colter Frazier has been quietly creating a striking blend of new music that draws inspiration from myriad sources. The self-titled debut of Frazier's working quartet features Nick Coventry (viola, violin), Miles Jay (bass) and longstanding musical duet partner, Rob Wallace (drums) on an intriguing set of originals that seamlessly fuse chamber music, free jazz, minimalism and Eastern folk music traditions into a cohesive whole.
A tasteful and inventive composer, Frazier's writing tends toward the chamber-esque, with periodic interludes of turbulence and rousing rhythmic activity. He generates a kaleidoscopic array of textures and tones from his string heavy ensemble during the austere opening of "Lloyd's Prayer," which slowly builds to a coiled, throttling theme, while "Hopes of Reunification" slyly alternates restrained pointillism with hyperactive staccato interjections reminiscent of Anthony Braxton and Raymond Scott. "4 Days and 5 Months" and Miles Jay's "Flight School for Sparrow" draw on muscular modal forms and vibrant intensity, approaching Coltrane- esque levels of expressionism.
The quartet embraces a vast dynamic range; the somber dirge "Unknown Strain II" exudes sinewy sonorities and serene melodic arcs while "August Ballad" unleashes spasmodic free discourse filled with harsh angles and coarse edges. The episodic "Lonely Friday" reveals Frazier's expert skills as an arranger, while "1-22-07" demonstrates delicacy and nuance as the quartet plies a brisk regal miniature brimming with neo-classical majesty.
The ensemble's empathetic interpretations of Frazier's opulent tunes reveal a symbiotic rapport. Individual solo statements are effortlessly integrated into the overall fabric of each piece as communal expressions, which reach a fevered pitch on "Flight School for Sparrow," and introspective depth on "Where000."
Frazier's mastery of the tenor saxophone encompasses a vast range, from hushed overtones to coruscating multiphonics. His aesthetic inclinations are subservient to his compositional goals however; although capable of extreme dynamics, he is no mere pyrotechnician. Alternating soaring unison lines and thorny contrapuntal themes with Coventry, the pair veers from songbird like harmonies to terse sinewy lines fraught with dramatic dissonance.
Jay and Wallace eschew predictable swing in favor of inspired polyrhythms and colorful textural accents to support Frazier's multi-layered pieces. "Late Again" even hints at the driving early minimalism of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich while the modal ostinatos of "4 Days and 5 Months" and "Flight School for Sparrow" borrow harmonic elements from Middle Eastern traditions.
Frazier avoids conventional strategies for improvisation in his heady compositions, focusing his thematically direct works towards specific goals. The fully notated "Focus" closes the album on a telling note. A repeated bittersweet refrain from paired strings and tenor frames Wallace's percolating percussive commentary, ending the record on a harmoniously unorthodox note.
Arriving fully formed with a singular artistic focus, the Colter Frazier Quartet is a stunning debut, worthy of the highest praise.
Personnel: Colter Frazier: tenor saxophone; Nick Coventry: viola, violin; Miles Jay: bass; Rob Wallace: