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Magic Numbers / The Distance

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A new pair of releases teams New York edge-cutters with their north-of-the-border counterparts.

Quinsin Nachoff
Magic Numbers
Songlines
2006

Toronto-based reed player Quinsin Nachoff has one foot in jazz performance and the other in classical composition. While this combination can sometimes lead to a musical no-man's land, Nachoff manages to avoid stylistic malaise, largely by dint of the decidedly rockin' drum work of New York's Jim Black. A jazz trio, featuring another New York import, the superb Mark Helias on bass, is spliced together with a first-rate string quartet drawn from Toronto's pool of young classical talent.

Remove the jazz trio and you'd have a tasty little suite of string pieces, but not only has Nachoff brought in drums, he's apparently instructed Black to go more for Sonic Youth than Billy Higgins, a stark constrast against the delicate strings. Nachoff's own sax work adds further textural and stylistic counterpoint. What we have in the end is not quite gumbo, but a distinctive sound that can't yet be categorized. (Although, add it to the body of work John Hollenbeck and a few others are busy creating, and soon enough we're sure to begin hearing some new appelation... Fourth Stream? Classical Groove?)

Nachoff's writing is quite sophisticated harmonically and he sets up lovely chord progressions, articulated by the strings, over which he blows with inspired technique. His idea here is much clearer than that of pianist Chris Gestrin, who has paired Vancouver's Dylan van der Schyff on drums with another New Yorker, guitarist Ben Monder, on The Distance, a recording of mostly open improv with a couple of original tunes.


Chris Gestrin / Ben Monder / Dylan van der Schyff
The Distance
Songlines
2006

The lack of a bassist leaves Gestrin and Monder to parcel out the melodic and harmonic duties. Though they occasionally seem to trip over each other, the combination mostly works. Monder's playing seems most inspired and original on the improv pieces. Gestrin's fine piano work is given distinction by a few prepared strings that appear unexpectedly, lending pleasantly mystifying moments. Van der Schyff's drumming is subtly superb—exhilarating cascades of brushed snare, toms and cymbals blend with microtonal piano and guitar outbursts or fall into breathtaking silences. All three have a keen sense of how to build and resolve dramatic tension, though the mood is exclusively murky.


Tracks and Personnel

Magic Numbers

Tracks: There & Back; To Solar Piazza; How Postmodern of Me; October; Branches; Circles & Waves; Whorls; Sun-Day.

Personnel: uinsin Nachoff: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mark Helias: bass; Jim Black: drums; Nathalie Bonin, Noémi Racine Gaudreault: violin; Jean René: viola; Julie Trudeau: cello.

The Distance

Tracks: Ferns; Treacle; #47; Dark Engine; Treant; View from the Road; Extrinsic; The Distance; Voice in the Night; Second Approximation.

Personnel: Chris Gestrin: piano, prepared piano, bells; Ben Monder: electric guitar; Dylan van der Schyff: drums, percussion.


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