Reedman Aaron Irwin
is a very ambitious composer and on his latest, A Room Forever
, shows how to plumb emotional depths with subtlety and grace.
The inspiration for this music is the short stories by Breece Dexter John Pancake
, sometimes written Breece D'J Pancake, the spelling of which comes from a typo in the Atlantic Magazine. Pancake lived to be only twenty- six and died by his own hand; his stories focus on his native West Virginia and its people, highly regarded posthumously for stories which can be sampled here
However, the record liner itself is completely devoid of any of these connections and, although the bell cannot be unrung, the music does stand on its own, without making any overt references to the Appalachia of the stories. The twelve tracks share the titles of Pancake's twelve stories, each being a very carefully constructed vignette that manages to hide Irwin's expertise. The balance between the composed and improvised is finely wrought, making the line between them virtually invisible, with the only giveaway being larger structure which is uses the familiar recapitulation.
The band is drummerless, and indeed drums would have been intrusive: Irwin on clarinet, trombonist Matthew McDonald
, guitarist Pete McCann
and Thomson Kneeland
on bass. McDonald appeared on Irwin's 2011 Vicious World: Plays The Music Of Rufus Wainwright
. Given the transparency of the music, every voice is equally important, starting with Irwin's crystal-clear and virtually reedless tone. McCann is know for his versatility
and supplies many different guitar styles and sounds. McDonald's trombone tone hides behind a veil, becoming very emotional when he steps forward, and then blending in with Irwin when asked. Kneeland's bass fills the bottom and becomes propulsive when needs be; McCann and Kneeland can hardly be called the "rhythm section."
While the tracks vary in mood, much of the music is mournfully pretty, but with a touch of both resoluteness and ennui
(see "The Mark"). The title tune is outright eerie, as is "Time And Again."
The cumulative effect of A Room Forever
is a quiet intensity, almost an eavesdropping of a private conversation. Emotionally complex while being aurally transparent, the music ends up feeling like an long-gone acquaintance who has been missed, but whose newly-found presence is immediately comfortable. Strange, but wonderful.
A Room Forever; In The Dry; The Salvation of Me; The Way It Has To Be;
Trilobites; The First Day of Winter; The Honored Dead; Fox Hunters; The Scrapper;
Hollow; Time And Again; The Mark.
Aaron Irwin: clarinet; Matthew McDonald: trombone; Pete McCann: guitar;
Thomson Kneeland: bass.