Ask most artists and they'll tell you their albums tell a story. The idea of musical narrative is nothing newlisten to any ECM disc, where emotional arcs often transcend any collection of discrete pieces. Rare, however, are the recordings where there's an all-encompassing theme. Rarer still are those that tell a specific and self-contained story. Percussionist Brad Dutz's Nine Gardeners Named Ned
(pfMentum, 2005) was one such record; New York violinist Sam Bardfeld tells the story of the imperfect but always sympathetic Saul on Periodic Trespasses
Through Bardfeld's periodic spoken narratives we're taken on a trip through Saul's psyche as he attempts to master the Renaissance krummhorn, while regularly sidetracked with diversions into areas of love and doppelgangers. But the music tells the real story; Bardfeld ahs fashioned an album that's unequivocally modern and occasionally edgy in its approach, yet completely enticing.
Bardfeld has proven himself to be as comfortable with the confluence of Jewish and Cuban music on Roberto Juan Rodriguez's Baila! Gitano Baila! (Tzadik, 2004) as the surprisingly successful pop music of Nancy "These Boots are Made for Walkin' Sinatra's Nancy Sinatra (Sanctuary, 2004). His music is occasionally whimsical, yet never insubstantial. Here he's created an album that explores contemporary concerns but doesn't neglect tradition.
"Saul's Long Night begins with Bardfeld and trumpeter Ron Horton layering an abstruse yet lyrical fanfare over vibraphonist Tom Beckham's abstract chords, bassist Sean Conly's light ostinato and Satoshi Takeishi's metronomic pulse. But it quickly evolves into a more insistent swing where Bardfeld joins tradition with innovation. His solo devolves into an anarchistic interchange with Horton, only to shift into a more dark-grooved space where his long tones provide a foundation for Beckham's outré, yet approachable solo.
Horton, an alumnus of bassist Ben Allison's Medicine Wheel and the Herbie Nichols Project, also doesn't ignore what came before in the pursuit of what comes after. On one hand he can be mellifluously toned (listen to his thematically sure-footed solo on the gentle "Beal ); on the other more acerbic, as on "I Was Basking In It, where Conly and Takeishi keep a fluid groove despite the track's more oblique melodicism. He's an intriguing textural match with Bardfeld on the front line.
Bardfeld's episodic writing often uses unexpected methods to tie together seemingly disparate ideas. "Portrait of Jessica begins abstract yet engaging, with Bardfeld evolving a folkloric theme over Conly's arco pedal tone. But that's only a setup for Horton's entry, where the ambience becomes distinctly cool and Beckham creates an ethereal cushion that makes even the most "out of Horton's notes feel somehow "in.
If music is meant to communicate, it sometimes fails when an artist's vision is too opaque to reach any but the most intrepid of listeners. Periodic Trespasses is layered enough to appeal to those with unconventional dispositions, yet it's easy enough on the ears to appeal to those who've yet to make a leap beyond the mainstream.
Personnel: Sam Bardfeld: violin; Ron Horton: trumpet; Tom Beckham: vibraphone; Sean Conly: bass;
Satoshi Takeishi: drums; Danny Blume: electronic, piano and percussion (1,3,6,9,11,14,16);
Curtis Hasselbring: megamouth (1).