The cooperative quartet ShotXShot has most assuredly earned all of the acclaim for its first release, Shot x Shot
(High Two Recordings, 2006), which seemingly came out nowhere, as well as this second remarkable recording, Let Nature Square
The former album was recorded live in a church and the music was designed to take advantage of the acoustics. While this album was recorded in a studio, it is closer to what the band really sounds like, since the tracks were laid down in two or three takes. The highly honed mix of structure and freedom that was crystal clear on the former album, despite the sonics, is now on display front and center.
The music of Let Nature Square
is very strong and muscular, while being deliciously balanced on the edge between compositional control and freedom. While each piece's theme is clearly the web on which the freedom hangs, the music can just as easily be heard as the theme arising out of the freedom.
Drummer Dan Capecchi, bassist Matt Engle, tenor saxophonist Bryan Rogers and alto saxophonist Dan Scofield form a true collaborative quartet, with each continuously listening, adjusting, leading and following. Their music not only breathes, but does so deeply; it is completely elastic, sounding utterly natural, even inevitable. The textures and densities that a piece might flow through vary continuously, creating an almost tactile sensation.
The band uses the terms non-linear or improvised composition to label its method in order to emphasize how the structured parts of the music are woven into the larger improvisational whole. What is startling to realize is that even in the densest sections, when all four players are letting fly, each line can be heard as being in an almost contrapuntal relationship with the others.
The sonic space is taken up equally by the reeds and the rhythm section. Capecchi's drumming is very melodic and he can move from to percussive sounds to a driving pulse instantly. Matching him in responsiveness is Engle, whose playing has a ferocious intensity. The natural lead voices of Rogers and Scofield become enmeshed within a rhythmic engine as their angular lines and cries dart and encircle each other.
This is music that can be listened to many times, each from a different perspective, and has a white-hot intensity even during the softer sections. It is accessible because of the structure arising from the control by their minds, and satisfying because of the emotional content this control channels.
Near the end of Engle's "Triple Double," a theme arises that sounds very much like Gebhard Ullmann's powerful "Seven 9-8," from the woodwind multi-instrumentalist's New Basement Research
(Soul Note, 2007). Whether it is was conscious nod to Ullmann or not, this section makes overt the connection to the older player's aesthetic: to create powerful, original music that does not rely on set patterns, but rather on the understanding of the relationship between body and mind. Let Nature Square
is a remarkable achievement.