How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The title track of Optics provides a good overview to this beautiful and fascinating recording. While some young musicians seek to capture their audience with a fusillade of notes, pianist Sïren Kjaergaard's trio proceeds with the flowing confidence of a Zen master. That's not to say that Optics doesn't have its intense, passionate or loud moments, but the balance of moods and dynamics comes from a self-assurance that is not doctrinaire or pretentious. "Optics" takes on a unique three-part (yet seamless) form. It starts with tremolos in the piano and drums with the bass joining the piano for a simple eight-note question followed by a seven-note answer. Out of mystical Messiaen-sounding chords emerges bassist Ben Street's gently singing solo. The third major part of this piece is a kaleidoscopic jazz waltz that functions as a coda and ends as subtly as it began. The musical point being made, nothing else needs to be said.
Throughout the recording the balance and blurring of the composed and improvised is splendidly accomplished. Drummer Andrew Cyrille is arguably best known for his explosive work with Cecil Taylor starting in the 1960s. Street, much younger than Cyrille, has been involved with a slightly calmer improvising scene that includes guitarists Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Kjaergaard is the bridge between them: sometimes he plays the piano fiercely and percussively while at other times the space between the longer held, soft chords gives the bass voice a lot of space through which to sing.
Kjaergaard's respect for Cyrille and Cecil Taylor becomes particularly clear in two pieces: "Cyrille Surreal," a series of hypnotic chord sequences for Cyrille to groove and solo upon, and "Work of Art," which channels that intense 1960s Taylor/Cyrille energy in focused, concise composition.
Both "Elegy" and "Radio House Requiem" might be described as ballads and they are both gorgeous CD highlights. The latter does portray a sense of loss, but the sophisticated harmonies played at a slow, steady tempo make for riveting listening.
With eight tracks from three to thirteen minutes in length (at a total running time of approximately 56 minutes) and varying greatly in sonic and emotional dynamics, repeated listening will reveal more detail.
Track Listing: Optics; Dear Mr. Sear; Cyrille Surreal; Elegy; Mallets; Gyamtso; Work of Art; Radio House Requiem.
Personnel: Soren Kjaergaard: piano; Ben Street: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.