Shawn Baltazor: Lionsong

Dan Bilawsky By

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Never judge an album by its title. That parallel to the book-and-cover adage is worth remembering, as you can never truly know what sits beyond a name or an idea until you give something a listen. Take Lionsong, for example. The roar and thunder that one might associate with the most majestic of wildcats is a far cry from much of the music that greets the ears on this protean production from drummer-composer Shawn Baltazor. Everything from dream sequences with strings to loping swing with attitude to glazed-over tales of yearning manages to appear at one time or another on this most fascinating of albums.

A brief, string-centric prelude ushers Lionsong in with an air of apprehension before the real show begins. But in that twenty-one second welcome, Baltazor lucidly introduces his fondness for uncertainty. The first proper song—"Folklore"—furthers the idea of Baltazor-as-explorer. Simple pianisms and the light trappings of a percussive rainforest help the music to settle in, but firm shape and footing eludes the ear. It's a piece built on the play between connections and separation.

As the album plays on, an appreciation for Baltazor's cliché-free approach to playing and composing grows. He paints in the background with brushes on the simple and serene "Nostalgia," creates drive without unnecessary force while aiding in the intensification process on "Chance," uses piano and strings to channel peace on "King Of Kings," explores a Brazilian stream of sound on "Fantasia," balances bright(er) colors with a slate gray sensibility during "With Each Breath," and powers the beastly "Momentum" with spirit and strength. His solo on that last number, growing from a snare-and-tom back-and-forth to a tumultuous tantrum, proves to be one of the album highlights.

In putting together this project, Baltazor managed to pick all of the right players to bring life and depth to his music. Guitar wizard Ben Monder alternately conjures a sonic haze, plays it straight, and provides some serious fire; saxophonist Seamus Blake brings a sense of post-modern lyrical cool to the fore through frolicking movements, brooding mannerisms, and a variety of other emotional ideals; pianist Sam Harris is the musical everyman, capable of pulling and producing meaning from any idea; and bassist Ben Street proves every bit as flexible as his rhythmic partner here, willing to shoulder the low-end responsibilities or bend roles to suit the songs. This quintet is made for this music, and this music is pure heaven.

Track Listing: We've Been Expecting You; Folklore; Pathways; Nostalgia; Chance; With Each Breath; Momentum; A Beautiful Wind; Danse; Adrift; Fantasia; King Of Kings.

Personnel: Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ben Monder: acoustic guitars, electric guitars; Sam Harris: piano; Ben Street: bass; Shawn Baltazor: drums, percussion; Julia Korodi: violin; Christina Courtin: viola; Clarice Jensen: cello; Peter Pejtsik: cello; Jacob Silver: double bass; Shawn Conley: double bass (1, 12); Bill Goodwin: triangle; Megan Conley: harp (4).

Title: Lionsong | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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