Sebastian Noelle: Across the River (2006)
Warm, relaxed yet energetic original compositions dominate guitarist Sebastian Noelle's inviting album Across the River. Much of that warmth and relaxation comes from Noelle's fuzzy, rich harmonies and melodies that ring out with slight reverb and distortion. Much of the energy comes from some of the most exciting players on the New York scene today: Ari Hoenig (drums) and Ben Street (bass), with Donny McCaslin (tenor, soprano) and Javier Vercher (tenor) splitting saxophone duties.
A slow, measured and gorgeous composition, "Across the River is worthy of being the title track. Its reaching melody conveys optimism with a bit of resignation, allows a hint of mystery to sneak in, while riding a simple, descending chord progression that could have come from a folk or pop song. More dissonant question-mark phrases lead to expansive, expectant suspended chords before the top returns and an in-the-pocket solo by Noelle.
Other noteworthy compositions include the opening "Metamorphosis, which is built on a searching, three-note motif sequenced upward; Noelle provides nice contrast to McCaslin's soaring soprano solo by staying in the lower register of his guitar. The fluttery, flighty "Papillon features another dynamite McCaslin solo (on tenor) with phrase after inventive phrase. "Liquid Truth evolves from highly synchronized and skittish two-note riffs to a wider frame for freer improvisation, a structure that Hoenig's creativity especially seems to thrive in.
A minor downside to the album is the similarity, in tempo and texture, of many of the pieces; Noelle's colors are beautiful, but the palette is not so varied here. However, this drawback is diminished by the quality of the solos and by the time the album closes on the soulful, feel-good title track, one looks forward to hearing more from Noelle and his bandmates.
Track Listing: Metamorphosis; Hanakotoba; Papillon; People Need People; Alpha et Omega; Liquid Truth; Out in the Fields Again; Gone; The Check Bounce; Across the River.
Personnel: Sebastian Noelle: guitar; Javier Vercher: tenor saxophone (2,4,6,8-10), flute (1); Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone (1,3,5,7), soprano saxophone (1); Ben Street: acoustic bass; Ari Hoenig: drums.