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Tom Christensen: New York School

AAJ Staff By

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Modern jazz sometimes seems a bit schizophrenic, caught between the extremes of intellectual abstraction and spiritual seeking, and the more ambitious sort often fails because it can't find intuitive connections between the two. Horn multi-instrumentalist Tom Christensen's third release in six years is a pleasure from start to finish because it manages to simultaneously embrace thought and emotion, interweaving the two in constantly evolving, often unpredictable ways. Christensen is joined by percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, a veteran of his two previous quartet records, plus multi-reedist Walt Weiskopf and bassist Kermit Driscoll.

Christensen's seven compositions on New York School were inspired by painting and poetry from the '50s and '60s artistic movement of the same name, with special emphasis on improvisational poet Frank O'Hara. The liner notes leave out the actual source material, but it's really unnecessary to appreciate the music, which offers an extremely wide spectrum of instrumental color—especially on the front line, which is regularly intertwined during ensemble play.

All four musicians pay careful attention to dynamics and tone, crafting phrases as much based on shape as flow. The material spans from the energy-rich strains of "Guardians" (see the Pollock painting here) to the baroque lament of "Your Strange Son" and the relaxed, sunny stroll of "Asleep and Sleeping with Them." The lines often blur between composition and improvisation, but there's no stiffness anywhere, and it's definitely a group effort.

Some of the starkest and most penetrating moments come through on "In Memory of My Feelings," which pairs bass clarinets and soprano saxophone with deep, ringing, ritualistic percussion, communicating a sense of melancholy loss matched with a seemingly paradoxical feeling of rebirth.

One of the best records of 2005.


Track Listing: Guardians; Further Digressions; In Memory of My Feelings; Asleep and Sleeping With Them; Your Strange Son; Oranges; Little Elegy

Personnel: Tom Christensen (tenor and soprano sax, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute, wood flute), Walt Weiskopf (tenor and soprano sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet), Kermit Driscoll (bass), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion)

Title: New York School | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Playscape Recordings

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