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With his second release as a leader (and first for Fresh Sound), violinist Sam Bardfeld presents an album full of modern Jewish intellectual reflection, as practiced by such diverse artists as Saul Bellow and Woody Allen, but couched in terms owing more of a debt to Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage.
But given those two foundations, this album is neither radical Jewish culture a la Tzadik nor progressive rock. It is instead another fine entry into the seemingly endless pool of releases by young New York composers/conceptualists.
Bardfeld plays the role of "Central Scrutinizer here, narrating the tale of the main character, Saul, as he pursues his dream to play medieval krummhorn (a curved wooden horn which does not make an appearance on the album). The quirky narrations (seven in total) introduce songs and "suites" of songs (all but one are originals by Bardfeld) and should be appreciated for their literary merit, rather than read as linear explanatory notes.
A concept album is only as strong as the music that it rests on, though. Bardfeld, along with a quintet that includes trumpet (Ron Horton), vibes and slide whistle (Tom Beckham), bass (Sean Conly) and drums (Satoshi Takeishi), has written music that exists simultaneously in the realms of the accessible and postmodern. These pieces share a romantic quality, which is not surprising given the sonorities and textures that Bardfeld is used to working with as a violinist, but they also have a dramatic flair and unity that is absolutely crucial if the disc is to hold together as more than a collection of tunes by a guy with a band. At the end of the disc, you still might not know who Saul is or what he represents, but he can be thanked for his inspiration to Bardfeld.
Track Listing: Chapter I; Saul's Long Night (parts 1,2,3 & 4); Chapter II; Beal; There Could Have Been More
Of It; Chapter III; I Was Basking In It; je taime...moi non plus; Chapter IV;
I.M.M.A.T.R.I.D.; Chapter V; Portrait of Jessica; Harry's Mambo; Chapter VI; Flood; Chapter VII;
Dream of the Doppelganger.
Personnel: Sam Bardfeld: violin; Ron Horton: trumpet; Tom Beckham: vibraphone; Sean Conly: bass;
Satoshi Takeishi: drums.