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Album Review

Michael Sarian: New Aurora

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Michael Sarian: New Aurora
With New Aurora, Canadian trumpeter Michael Sarian takes a few steps down a different path to his past projects, leaving bigger ensembles and electric instrumentations behind to focus on ten arrangements carried out in an acoustic quartet setting. In this more dynamic light, the trumpeter is given space to unfold and spread his melodic voice and personal language. Sarian takes advantage of this in a minimal way. A heightened sense of sophistication can be heard as a result, leaving the trumpeter sounding warmer, more confident and simply grander than ever. Having been based in New York for over eight years, Sarian is joined by a cast of other promising young New Yorker talents, whose bold individual performances elevate the overall experience.

The influence of pioneering romantic horn players who prominently feature in the ECM catalogue, such as the late great Kenny Wheeler, Tomasz Stanko or Enrico Rava, seems within one's reach at each and every turn of New Aurora—or "New Dawn," as Sarian would put it. Patiently the band meditates on the simple harmonic pendulum defining opener "Dle Yaman / Portrait of a Postman," a tune of which the core is based on a minimalist melodic idea, and whose major tonic isn't ever truly questioned. Quiet brush strokes and careful hands touching enticing keys dominate the lyrical takes of the record, whose quiet nature hides an underlying sense of urgency. The title track, "Colorado Yeta," as well as "Mountains" belong to those understated exhibitions of the record. The emotional pull and dynamic drive of the band emanates from sparse yet concise dialogues between the band. The replacement of Marty Kenney by Matt Pavolka on bass for the second and sixth tracks on the record is barely noticeable. Both deliver a tight foundation with a lyrical sense for melodicism. Kenney's lines on the title track especially exemplify the special empathy and engagement of the bassmen at work.

Harsh right and left turns interrupt the continuous stream of the album. "This is only the beginning" has a breakbeat quality which drives the tune to a lively place, where the instruments mingle comfortably. The drums could be a little less present in the mix at this point but instead take up much of the room via hard-hitting snare blasts. In opposition to this essay's modern constitution, "Primp" represents the tradition, demonstrating the musicians' hard bop chops at some speed. Pianist Santiago Leibson, whose craftsmanship throughout the record is of outstanding quality, delivers some beautifully fluid lines here, deserving of special mention.

A playful Hip-Hop groove in alternating time signatures enters in the second half of two-faced "Scottie (33)," confronting timeless romanticism with groove-oriented modernism, whereas "The Morning After" finds the band at its most paradoxical, clashing hymnal melody with dissonance and deconstruction. In a trumpet and piano duo performance, Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" is treated to a sweet, traditional rendition, closing the album in another surprising turn of events.

Variety in such amplified presence as on New Aurora can have two effects. The first is to make an album more intriguing, more interesting to follow and fun to try and expect the unexpected. The second manifests itself in a sense of overall incoherency. Both appear to hold true here, but the first to a far greater extent. Michael Sarian has crafted a very fine recording capturing every nuance of his unique compositional and instrumental voice. Flugelhorn and trumpet playing of this calibre—reminiscent of Sarian's lyrical contemporaries such as Ralph Alessi, Ambrose Akinmusire or Avishai Cohen - Trumpet—can be sure to be discovered in wider circles very soon. It is certainly deserving of a large audience and much recognition.

Track Listing

Dle Yaman / Portrait of a Postman; This is Only The Beginning; Aurora; Primo; Colorado Yeta; Scottie (33); The Morning After; Chinar Es; Mountains; Ask me Now.

Personnel

Michael Sarian: trumpet; Santiago Leibson: piano; Marty Kenney: bass; Matt Pavolka: bass; Dayeon Seok: drums.

Album information

Title: New Aurora | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: ears&eyes Records


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