The church organ has been a bit player in jazz history, impacting about as much as an Alfred Hitchcock cameoblink and you'd miss it. Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen's meditative duo album Aftenland (ECM, 2000) and a trio of gothic jazz recordings by Asaf Sirkis and the Inner Noise spring to mind, but after that you'd really have to dig. Cycle sees Azerbaijan's leading jazz musicians, soprano saxophonist Rain Sultanov embrace the solemnity of church organ in intimate dialogues that, without a doubt, owe a debt to Garbarek and Johnsen's aforementioned collaboration.
Recorded in the Gothic Church of the Redeemer in Baku, shares some of the aching lyricism of Inspired By Nature (Ozella Music, 2017) though none of that record's free-jazz flights. Unlike Garbarek, who toggled between soprano, tenor and wooden flute on Aftenland, Sultanov sticks resolutely to the soprano throughout, with the result that the color variations on these nine tracks are emotional rather than tonal or textural in nature. Sarabski, for the most part, uses the organ as an accompanying tool, underpinning Sultanov's measured solos and providing chordal and drone-like counterpoint to his own crystalline piano playing. Sarabski's organ solo on the haunting lullaby "Embryo" stands out as a rare improvisational foray on the instrument.
The quasi-sacred ambiance instilled by Sarabski contrasts with the humanity in Sultanov's playing; there's an undeniable warmth in the longing, lamentation and sombre meditation that his soprano variously evokes. Sarabski's piano interventions offer another dynamic; the gossamer lyricism of his solos, notably on "Planet" "Tandem" and Symbiosis" largely mirroring Sultanov's own emotional contours. All the while, Sarabski's left hand works the organ, and in general, the arrangements vary little from one track to the next.
The exception to the prevailing format comes with the prayer-like "Orison," where the organ sits out as soprano and piano gently dovetail. Medina Sultanova's wordless singing on this composition adds a subtle, ethereal quality, her voice entwined almost as one with that of the soprano saxophone. It would have been simple enough for Sultanov and Sarabski to splash more such colors abouta tenor or baritone saxophone here, a blues configuration there, some rustling percussionbut then the music would have been something entirely different, less conceptual, perhaps. Less meditative, almost certainly.
There's a boldness in the simplicity of Sultanov and Sarabski's proposal that's admirable in itself. The understated elegance of their dialogues may prove too low-key for some tastes, but Sultanov's gentle keening and Sarabski's lulling, church organ pulses will wash over others like a welcome balm in these frenetic, conflictive times.