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Album Review

Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: As Things Do


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Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: As Things Do
The Elusion Quartet has become one of bassist Michael Formanek's more formidable ensembles, even if it is a more recent project than his long- standing work with Tomas Fujiwara and Mary Halvorson in Thumbscrew, or the many recordings he has made with prominent saxophonists ranging from Tim Berne to Marty Ehrlich and Ellery Eskelin. Although As Things Do is only the second release by the group, it is a superb album in every respect and a strong contender for year-end acclaim.

With colleagues Kris Davis on piano, Tony Malaby on saxophones and Ches Smith on percussion, listeners will be justified in having high expectations. And like the group's debut, Time Like This (2018, Intakt), this one too reflects the leader's penchant for rhythmic complexity and sympathetic communication. Malaby is integral to the group's success, bringing a blazing fury to the raging opener, "Bury the Lede," but just as effective in a subdued capacity, as on the poignant closer, "Gone Home." Davis is as inventive as always, alternately lyrical and oblique, with enough surprises to generate interest on each of the album's eight cuts—not to mention a viscerally forceful attack, displayed amply on "Bury the Lede." Whether holding down the drum kit or taking a turn on the vibes, Smith is capable of negotiating and anticipating his partners' moves with agility. And the leader does more than enough to bolster his resume as one of the premier bassists of his generation, with lithe passages galore—heard to no finer effect than on "In Turn," where he matches Malaby's loquacity admirably.

Formanek's crafty compositions are also a marvel, with each possessing enough elasticity to allow his bandmates to influence their direction in subtle ways. "Rewind" is a case in point, with a complex motif that enables Malaby and Davis to take their time in exploring its various angles and detours, while Formanek and Smith keep the subtle rhythmic shifts from fragmenting. Or take "Rockaway Beach," an immediately engaging track that allows Formanek, Davis and Malaby a chance to turn it loose over the piece's off-kilter funk. "Entropy" moves in a more abstract direction, with a winsome melody that eventually opens to indeterminacy, as the piece's center gradually dissolves. And most ambiguous and enchanting of all is "Cracked Bells," where Davis' prepared piano and Smith's languorous vibes initiate an elliptical reverie, with Malaby's soprano sax gracefully floating above it all as the piece finds its purpose and builds in unfolding intensity, the players becoming progressively more animated and the rhythm becoming increasingly fractured. Yet somehow the four stop short of giving way fully to the music's fissiparous tendencies, as the closing groove ushers the track to a satisfying finish.

As challenging as the music can sometimes be, there are moments like the aforementioned "Gone Home" which simply delight in the possibilities presented by a compelling, well-played melody, as Malaby gives full rein to his most lyrical muse. It reminds us that the earthy and the ethereal can sometimes exist side-by-side, illustrated so vividly on this outstanding release.

Track Listing

Bury the Lede; Rewind; In Turn; Rockaway Beach; Cracked Bells; Entropy; I Don’t Think So; Gone Home.


Michael Formanek: bass, acoustic; Tony Malaby: saxophone, tenor; Kris Davis: piano; Ches Smith: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Smith: vibes (3, 5, 8).

Album information

Title: As Things Do | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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