Since the late 1990s, percussionist Eric Platz has maintained a busy performance schedule working in a variety of musical genres. He has served as a sideman to such luminaries as Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano and Lucinda Williams, co-led the improvised music trios Fat Little Bastard and FourMinusOne, and is a member in both the world music ensemble Asefa and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez's band. Despite his extensive and eclectic discography, Life After Life is his first recording as a bandleader.
The richly-hued session offers a bold study in contrasts, veering from introspective to expressionistic. Platz is joined on this compelling journey by clarinetist James Falzone, cellist Leanne Zacharias and electric bassist Don Benedictsona unique lineup capable of everything from neoclassical restraint to rocking intensity. This expansive sensibility is most effectively conveyed by the epic "Blood Meridian" suite that serves as the record's conceptual centerpiece. Divided into distinct chapters based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, the work's implied narrative dynamically transitions between violently discordant episodes suggesting the cruelty of man and harmonious meditations on the timeless grandeur of the Western landscape. Beyond his colorful use of exotic percussion and powerfully nuanced drumming, Platz's compositional acumen makes the greatest impression on this imaginatively produced cinematic opus.
Other pieces reveal equally rich sonic detail within more compact time frames. The contemplative "Redwood Vesper" blends droning washes with serpentine clarinet ruminations, inspired by the ancient Tall Trees Grove in Redwood National Forest. Three different versions of the title track explore alternate courses of destiny in increasingly meditative states, mirroring the titular tale written by Kate Atkinson, while "Marrakesh Highline" ends the album on a beautifully uplifting note, its soaring modalities and lilting rhythms evoking timeless Middle Eastern music traditions.
More than the sum of its parts, Platz's adept ensemble telegraphs his highly personalized compositions with audible commitment. Falzone's mastery of Eastern modes imbues the leader's lyrical themes with sagacious gravitas, while Zacharias' sinewy cello ruminations offer coruscating contrast to Benedictson's sinuous bass lines, especially on "Blood Meridian," where his recurring bass ostinato provides the suite with a requisite sense of dread. Bolstered by his bandmates innate chemistry and interpretive prowess, Life After Life is an impressive debut from an artist who has long served on the sidelines; perhaps some things are worth the wait.
Life After Life One; Seeds of Doubt; Redwood Vesper; Life After Life Two; Blood Meridian; Life After Life Three; Marrakesh Highline.
Eric Platz: drums, percussion, mbira; James Falzone: Bb clarinet, shruti box; Leanne Zacharias: cello; Don Benedictson: electric bass.
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