Pianist Johannes Wallmann's Elegy For An Undiscovered Species opens with the eleven minute title tune, a musical protest against the Anthropocene Extinction. That extinction is happening right now. Human activityhuman predominance of the planetis its cause. This opener does have an apocalyptic feel, with a dark piano trio intro and a dark strings backdrop seeping into the mix, followed by tenor sax (Dayna Stephens) and trumpet (Ingrid Jensen) solos.
Of Dayna Stephens' sound: if Paul Desmond's alto saxophone can be described as "the sound of a dry martini," we might liken Stephens' tenor sax as "the sound of a dry whiskey and water." Trumpeter Jensen follows Stephens with an anguished, gnarled crythe initial tortured protest of the unidentified species in response to the extinction process? This evolves into a strident , more straight-ahead statement in front of a strings fibrillation, backed by a powerhouse groove from drummer Allison Miller and bassist Nick Moran that gives way to an introspectiveand botheredpiano solo from Wallmann.
This is a jazz with strings album, one in which the violins and violas and cellos serve as backdropand a sometimes equal partnerfor an exploratory modern jazz quintet. The opener is agitated, disturbed, turbulent. The strings sound like the workings of the natural world; the jazz quintet sounds like the workings of humankind, sometimes grand and beautiful and aspirational, sometimes aberrant and deleterious. This grand/deleterious aspect may be the formation of a cautionary tale. The deleterious side may be winning.
But the music here (and ultimately all art, really) can give us hope. The template gets set with the title tune: Beautiful and bold quintet interplay, unfettered soloing all around, the strings lending a tint toward the cerebral on a set of distinctive, nicely-arranged and often edgy compositions from Wallmann, with lots of room for individualistic ideas all around.
And of special note is Stephens' deft use of the EWI (electronic wind instrument) on "In Three," adding a sound that further modernizes an already modern music; and Nick Moran's electric bass solo on "The Expeditor," along with Millers' assured percussive nuances and the bold work of the strings that take things into a surreal funk zone.
Elegy for an Undiscovered Species; Two Ears Old; In Three; Expeditor; Longing; The Greater Fool; Two Ears Old (reprise).
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