Trumpeter Michael Sarian leads two large-sized groups, The Chabones and The Big Chabones, that utilize multiple horns and electronic sounds in high energy arrangements. This quartet recording is a different story. Sarian is the lone horn here, playing trumpet on the first track and flugelhorn on the rest, while the music itself is strictly acoustic. Much of it has a gentle, folkish presence, although the leader's wilder impulses also make their presence known.
The music's quiet side emerges from the beginning with the medley of "Dle Yaman," one of two pieces here written by Komitas, a monk and composer who founded the Armenian national school of music, and Sarian's original, "Portrait Of A Postman." It carries a peaceful, textured flow as Sarian squeezes out plaintive notes over Santiago Leibson's murmuring piano and the stately rhythmic background laid down by bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Dayeon Seok. That still, contemplative feeling continues in the somber mood of "Aurora" and the hymn-like hush of "Colorado Yeta" where Sarian's soft cries over spacious piano tinkling evokes the feeling of vast Western landscapes.
Elsewhere the music has a brighter and livelier feel. "This Is Only The Beginning" has Sarian and Leibson sailing assertively over glitchy rhythms while "Primo" is frisky up-tempo straight jazz with off-center Monkish rhythms bubbling underneath Sarian's fuzzy but exuberant flugelhorn flights. "Scottie (33)," for basketball great Scottie Pippen, starts with the rhythm section quietly setting a brooding pace before Sarian enters in melancholy ballad mood. His playing grows firmer and louder as the piano and bass hold their positions but Seok's drums get more complex. Everything becomes more intense as Sarian swoops about deliriously. Then the tempo suddenly changes and there is a shift to a bouncy hip hop beat and the flugelhorn coolly wriggles over slippery piano, bass and drum patterns.
"The Morning After" has Sarian shouting out a poppy melody on top of a storming prog-rock piano line before the music disintegrates into gnarled free blowing. Leibson's grimly swaying line on "Mountains" evokes a similar dark and heavy feel but this time, Sarian dominates. His flugelhorn melodically soars and wails over the dramatic background waves until it breaks down into a long stretch of squeaks, pops and other small noises. On "Chinar Es," the other Komitas composition, Sarian moans with a bluesy Spanish tinge over handclaps and hushed stutters and struts from the rest of the band. The CD ends with a compact skipping and twirling horn and piano duet on Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."
This music has a sense of space and daring that reflects concepts in the ECM work of musicians like Tomasz Stanko and Paul Motian but it also folds in the influence of hip hop and progressive rock. Michael Sarian and his group create alternatively forceful and haunting sounds that dwell outside of the jazz mainstream in their own realm of quirky beauty.
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.