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Alex Merritt Quartet: Anatta

Budd Kopman By

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Everyone, listeners and composers/players bring their life experience to the music at hand. Jazz musicians in particular, especially today when many, if not most, compose as well as perform, pour themselves once into a composition, and then again when performing it. The performer aims to virtually disappear, to separate the distance and space between himself and the listener, and allow the music to flow. Of course, the listener is also asked to fully "be present" and , in a sense, to also disappear.

Anatta, from tenor saxophonist Alex Merritt and his quartet is a wondrous work of many levels and influences. What is fascinating is that the music can be appreciated without knowing anything about any of Merritt's influences, particularly those of Classical music. In fact, this is true even of the influences and references to other jazz players and composers.

Because the music presents itself so unselfconsciously, and with such a unified point of view, it is easy to understand at the level of musical line and harmony and thus enjoy. Merritt is an understated composer and player, who would rather hint at his underlying methods than shout. His sound is soft-edged and airy, and drawing one in by his subtlety and almost forcing the by now willing listener to pay attention. The other members of the quartet, bassist Sam Lasserson, pianist John Turville and drummer Jeff Williams are completely in tune with the ideas and execution that Merritt is trying to present.

"Justin Time-berlake," a Merritt composition based on the Jule Styne tune "Just In Time," perhaps shows his main influence from the jazz side -that of the Lennie Tristano/Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh iconoclastic, intellectual, yet very, very cool school. The long, twisting and turning lines which are coupled with abstruse harmonies and played way, way behind (or is it in front of) the beat demonstrates Merritt's dual musical identity.

The Classical influence is laid bare by the two tracks, "For Henri Dutilleux" and "For Peter Schat" (listen to the Dutilleux's music here and Schats's music here). The sounds of early 20th century Impressionist composers, such as Debussy and Ravel, did not get picked up by the jazz world until fifty years later, and many of today's jazz composers and players have clearly been listening to the music of the modern Classical world.

The point here is that, even with knowing nothing about these composers, the link between their musical world and that of Merritt's is quite clear. Both he and they like to float and imply, to weave a spell and entrap the ear without it realizing what is happening.

All of the tracks have this trait in common, even, or perhaps especially, the standards, the Monk tunes ("Ugly Beauty" and "Pannonica") and Eubie Blake's "Memories of You." That is not to say that all is soft gauzy tissue and pastels; at the center of Merritt's music is a taut intensity born of a mix of musical euphony and intellect (see "Conn Artist").

Anatta, an extremely rich and deep achievement, cannot but be enjoyed on many levels, many times over.

Track Listing: Conn Artist; Ugly Beauty; Justin Time-berlake; For Henri Dutilleux; For Peter Schat; Anatta; Memories Of You; Pannonica.

Personnel: Alex Merritt: tenor saxophone; Sam Lasserson: bass; John Turville: piano; Jeff Williams: drums.

Title: Anatta | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: F-IRE Records

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