Collage Project: Off Brand

Troy Dostert BY

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Collage Project: Off Brand
Listeners who crave a bit of classical rigor with their jazz—or, conversely, those who enjoy improvisational freedom within a classical chamber setting—should investigate the work of the Collage Project. Built around the trio of guitarists Daniel Bruce and Daniel Lippel and bassist Aidan Plank, and complemented by drummer Nathan Douds, saxophonist Noa Even and trombonist Chris Anderson, the group thrives in the space between formalism and freedom, and with whip-smart compositions perfect for harnessing their respective talents, Off Brand is an enticing and heady mix of musical modes.

Bruce's previous release, Earthshine (ears&eyes, 2017) showcased his compositional acumen and compelling sound. He's a guitarist as attuned to texture as he is tunefulness, and that's a useful trait when partnered with Lippel, whose work as guitarist for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) gives him a platform to explore some of the most creative streams of current classical music. Here his crisply-played nylon string guitar offers the perfect contrast with Bruce's nuanced electric guitar and electronic effects. Plank brings not only a finely-honed jazz sensibility, reflected in his crafty composition "Open Glimpse," he also provides the album's concluding four-movement suite, "Quartet for Bela," played in tandem with Lippel, an homage to Bartok in an improvisatory spirit.

Structure is crucial to each piece on the album; there's no unhinged freedom here, even on the three relatively brief free improvisations, which involve various trio-based configurations of the musicians. Case in point is "Free #8," a piece played by Even, Bruce and Lippel. While Bruce develops a subtle repeated figure and Lippel offers nimble extrapolations, Even joins the conversation with a wide range of extended techniques, none of which come close to melody, but rather use texture and abstraction to complement the other players. It fits together as well as it does as a result of the musicians' acute listening abilities; the shape of the piece emerges organically rather than being determined in advance, but it's no less structured for that.

The most noteworthy highlights are the lengthier pieces—the ones which give the musicians the fullest chance to navigate the intricacies of these thoughtful compositions. Lippel's "For Manny" is a terrific start to the album, built around an engaging rhythmic pattern that makes room both for Lippel's affecting lyrical phrases and Bruce's skillful interjections, before Bruce gets a scorching solo turn. "Hard Boiled Donut" is Lippel's second piece on the album, and it's even more inventive, with shifting rhythmic undercurrents supporting rich ensemble collaboration. Bruce's "Inner Androids" and "Adaptation Dance" are just as good. The former is a moody, slow- building piece with a few twists and turns and a searching solo from Anderson, while the latter is a catchy groover with a tricky theme and some pugnacious bursts from Even after an energized Plank solo.

There's nothing second-rate or inferior about the music on Off Brand; the album's self-effacing title notwithstanding, this is a very fine recording.

Track Listing

For Manny; Free #2; Inner Androids; Free #5; Adaptation Dance; Free #8; Open Glimpse; Hard Boiled Donut; Quartet for Bela (I-IV).


Daniel Bruce: guitar, electric; Daniel Lippel: guitar, acoustic; Aidan Plank: bass; Nathan Douds: drums; Noa Even: saxophone; Chris Anderson: trombone.

Album information

Title: Off Brand | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: New Focus Recordings

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