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Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet: Heaven On My Mind

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Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet: Heaven On My Mind
So called spiritual-jazz seemed to come out of nowhere with John Coltrane in the mid-1960s. If one jazz musician was the catalyst for the emergence this sub-genre of jazz it was he. Coltrane acolytes Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane and Charles Lloyd, among others, subsequently took up the mantle. No easier to define than jazz itself, spiritual jazz is hip once again. Not that Yuri Honing openly subscribes to the label, after all this is a musician who has steadfastly chartered his own course since the early 1990s.

Yet the Dutch saxophonist acknowledges the debt his Acoustic Quartet's fifth album owes to Sanders, Lloyd and the free-jazz era. The album title, and those of some of the song titles therein, suggest a meditation on loss and the afterlife. So, spiritual in a sense, for sure, but Honing's music is neither derivative of the past nor slave to the contemporary spiritual jazz bandwagon. As with True (2012), Desire (2015), Goldburn (2017) and Bluebeard (2020)—all on Challenge Records—this is music cut from Honing's own very distinctive cloth.

If Honing's tenor saxophone evokes the yearning, keening qualities of Sanders and Lloyd then it does so in gentler, more subtle fashion. His purring lyricism on the title track sets the tone for the album as a whole, with his less-is-more approach mirrored in the sympathetic playing of pianist Wolfert Brederode, bassist Gulli Gudmundsson and drummer Joost Lijbaart. The abrupt ending to this opener—open to personal interpretation, naturally—may feel like a bold statement on the sudden transition between life and death.

Eschewing telegraphed displays of lamentation or ecstasy—emotions frequently associated with death and the afterlife—Honing instead follows a deliciously ambiguous path that straddles softly mournful and gently hopeful states. This hypnotic duality is beautifully encapsulated in "So Long Song," yet in truth it is almost a thematic thread throughout the album.

Subtlety is the watchword; A touch of bowed bass on the tone poem "Temple of Trees," a short harmonium wave on the rubato "Festina Lente," drums and bass dropping out on the achingly lyrical "Avalon" and on the intimate "Holding You"—the tonal variations are limited, but highly effective for it. Lijbaart, Honing's closest musical confidant since their student days in the 1980s, has rarely played with a lighter touch, his washing cymbals and little chimes adding Zen-like punctuation. And just where Gudmundson employs vibraphone is anyone's guess.

The music's depths best reveal themselves with headphones—the rich seam of Gudmundson's double bass is certainly enhanced thus—as the closer the attention, the more the music offers up. Arguably the most nuanced of the Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet's albums to date, this is a little piece of musical heaven.

Track Listing

Heaven On My Mind; So Long Song; Temple of Trees; Avalon; Avalon Reprise; Holding You; Saturnia; Pond of Spirits; Festina Lente.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Wolfert Brederode: harmonium, vibraphone.

Album information

Title: Heaven On My Mind | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Challenge Records


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