Noah Kaplan: Descendants (2011)
Who knew that tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan would turn out to be an old soul? Probably no one, especially those who have heard his extraordinary propensity for wailing in a sea of microtones and xenharmonics. But the truth is that Kaplan has made his lineage clear. He goes further back, from reeds-master Joe Maneri to the Greekseven the ancient Indianswith his soft drones and whispering, sliding glissandi to thank the lute players. He goes back to the veena and sitar players by caressing sixteenth and thirty- second notes from a bronzed tonal palette. He romances the sound of his saxophone like no other player. As a result, he is able to glide into the nooks and crannies of each minor wonder of sound drawn forth from his horn in hot, sultry, and sometimes even joyful breaths.
On Descendants, Kaplan finds a remarkable and worthy ally in his longtime Bassist, Giacomo Merega. Merega does not play contrapuntally in the strict baroque sense of the term. The bassist's counterpoint jumps, head first, into the gently rising diminuendo of "Descent" with an energetic crescendo of his own, as the study plummets into a black hole of joyful expectation. On "Esther," Merega dances and pirouettes around Kaplan's aching melody almost as if he were reminding the saxophonist that the best form of elegiac memory is one that celebrates the joys of a relationship. There is constant jousting between Kaplan and his bassist, who seems to play guardian angel to the saxophonist each time he is lost in the ruminations of the soul.
Yet for all the dwelling on lofty emotions, Kaplan is essentially a playful artist, even if it takes someone else to remind him that all is not grave in the sea of microtones. Guitarist Joe Morris and especially drummer Jason Nazary add a certain titillation to Kaplan's music. This is beautifully demonstrated on "Rat Man" (which seems to rhyme with Kaplan) and "Wolves," which both show Kaplan's wryly humorous and even childlike side. He is the youngest, most playful one in both the rat and wolf pack. Remarkably, it is Morris who reminds him of this, with his dancing triplets and poking and prodding notes in his jagged lines. Nazary cheers both on with his incessant chatter and clappingskin on skinas all three musicians frolic and gambol their way through the songs.
This is a fine album, indeed. It celebrates the microscopic word of harmonic intrusion in music with wonderful melodies and, yes, minute, nuanced craftsmanship in the realm of harmony (and rhythm) as well.
Track Listing: Pendulum Music; Descent; Esther; Rat Man; Wolves; Untitled.
Personnel: Noah Kaplan: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Joe Morris: guitar; Giacomo Merega: electric bass; Jason Nazary: drums.