No, this is not an ECM album, though, looking at the sleeve art, you would be excused from thinking it was trying to pass itself off as one. Half of the Acadia quartet is indeed European: Estonian-born, German-based pianist Kristjan Randalu and Luxembourg-born, US-based drummer Paul Wiltgen. The other half is American: alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius and US-born, London-based double bassist Michael Janisch. The music itself is a genuinely transatlantic affair, though the US is the dominant partner: Cornelius' vigorous straight-ahead playing and composing are the key sculpting elements, supported by Janisch's forceful presence. The band began life in the late 2000s as The Transatlantic Collective. Ten years after its last performance it reformed as Acadia, recording this album in the spring of 2019.
Acadia calls itself a collective, too. But this, like the sleeve design, is a bit confusing. The album is billed as by Cornelius, not Acadia; Cornelius wrote six of the eight tunes; and Cornelius is the producer (the other three musicians are given as co-producers). Just saying.
No caveats about the music though. Its future facing trajectory is a kind of fast-forwarded update of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean's direction in the mid 1960s: firmly in the straight-ahead tradition but stretching the envelope venturesomely and mostly muscularly. Two non-Cornelius tunes provide a shift in dynamics: Randalu's "Valse Hésitante" and Wiltgen's closer, "Ten Years Later," are each somewhere between wistful and reflective. It all makes for a satisfying mix, equal parts cerebral and visceral.
Cornelius says that, while writing the material for the album, he had in mind America's National Parks, to which the album is dedicated. These, together with wider ecological concerns, have been the motivator of several late 2010s albums, kicking off with the trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's America's National Parks (Cuneiform, 2016). Acadia: Way Of The Cairns is a fine addition to the oeuvre.
Way of the Cairns;
On the Precipice;
Ten Years Later.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.