Saxophonist Noah Kaplan's second album for the Switzerland-based hatOLOGY label equates to a six-year gap, following his debut, Descendants (2011). But the artist has been productive by pushing the envelope via his multi-purposed activities with various ensembles amid his status as a PhD candidate in Music Composition at prestigious Princeton University. He skirts the free-zone here, along with revered improvising guitarist Joe Morris.
During Kaplan's studies at the New England Conservatory he learned some broad concepts under Joe Maneri, who was a significant and influential mentor to many new school type thinkers. With his quartet, Kaplan conveys his enviable chops but as one might anticipate, it's not solely about showmanship or technical gymnastics here.
The musicians show restraint and mix it up with several well-timed powerplays throughout the production. The leader occasionally squelches his notes within a series of dizzying solos and numerous reconstruction efforts, yet moderates the mutable flows with either forceful aplomb or subliminally stated melodic content.
"Entzauberung" is infused with drummer Jason Nazary's chiseled electronics effects, meshing with his steady hits, and paired with bassist Giacomo Merega's punctuated lines, followed by Kaplan's ravenous phrasings. Otherwise, the saxophonist cleverly merges the old with the new on the jazz standard "Body and Soul," as he reconfigures the famous theme into sub- components along with Morris' delicate plucking, leading to some dissonant choruses and compelling contrasts. They even sink the melodies into subterranean depths, creating an off-centered variation and dreamy interlude. Moreover, "Virago (blues)" is a slanted spin on Americana. It's airy, unrestricted and highlighted by Morris' nimble and speedy solo, accelerated by Kaplan's emphatic, vibrato-tinged notes.
On the final and lengthiest track "Exheaval," the quartet executes an intense blowout, so to speak. Although, they inject a few quiet moments into the grand schema with a consortium of mini-motifs and regenerative improvisational segments. No doubt, Kaplan's provocative compositional pen and the musicians' telepathic communications only add to the intriguing storylines and multifarious frameworks exercised throughout.
Track Listing: Clinamen; Entzaugerung; Body and Soul; Sphex; Virago (blues); Exheaval.
Personnel: Noah Kaplan: tenor and soprano saxophone; Joe Morris: guitar; Giacomo Merega: bass; Jason Nazary: drums, electronics.
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