Given that a picture can be worth a thousand words and that saxophonist Sebastian Gille only uses one to define this album, the album artwork may be the better descriptor here. The icy peaks that adorn the cover of Anthem can be seen as a visual representation of the wide open vistas that Gille explores and creates. He paints slow snow drifts and rides through exhilarating gusts of wind balancing beauty and danger, a sense of uncertainty holding them both at check.
Gilles' greatest gift is his ability to create intense environments and thought-provoking strains without the heavy blowing histrionics or athletic feats that often accompany such work. He brings a measured sense of sound to the party and displays a remarkable sense of pacing and patience as he lets the music unfold. This may be the first album under his own name, but he's no rookie. Extensive training and lots of on-the-bandstand work have given the young saxophonist a sense of self-assurance that can't be faked.
Curious beauty with welcome, intermittent bouts of intensity keep this music moving, but Gille is only one of the four wheels that keep things on track. The other three-fourths of the quartet comes in the form of pianist Pablo Held's highly regarded trio. Held, bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgenwinkel fit this music to a tee, and none of the four have problem reading one another. They build raging fires without roaring ("Blossom"), slowly roam the quiet landscape in step with one another ("Gray"), and relax while displaying a sense of mutual contentment ("You Won't Forget Me"). They're also willing to explore the unknown together, as demonstrated at the outset of the penultimate selection, "Epilogue," but they do so sparingly. The searching here is merely an introduction to the more grounded section of twilight-glazed seduction.
Gille's selfless outlook makes for a balanced ensemble sound, with everybody adding important pieces to the whole. Landfermann's full-bodied bass seems to hang in the air, Burgwinkel can drive like Brian Blade ("Blossom") or color like Paul Motian, and Held has an endless supply of ideas moving through his mind and hands. Gille moves within the mix, associating with his cohorts rather than elevating himself above them. That's what makes this such an enjoyable outing. This Anthem isn't about stirring people up with patriotic dogma. It's about finding something sacred in the act of creation and conversation.
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