The title of Quinsin Nachoff's ambitious double album refers to the August 2017 lunar eclipse, when the moon passed in front of the sun and cast a shadow known as the "path of totality." This event also gave rise to a twin-headed metaphor reflecting both his band's creative evolutionary process and the current political and environmental discord in which (hopefully) light will triumph over darkness. Nachoff's approach is to employ his quartet as a nucleus for the album but also to deploy additional musicians on various tracks.
Unpacking this double CD suite yields a mass of complex music that requires and demands multiple replays, the better to understand and appreciate the extent of its many nuances. The opening title track, for example, is swathed in a spiralling head that leads into solo passages. But this is just an hors d'oeuvres for the entrée which is divided into several layers. At nearly twenty minutes, "Bounce" is festooned with surprises including breathtakingly fleet saxophone solos. There's also a poignant section towards the conclusion of the number where Jason Barnsley performs, on a Kimball Theatre organ, a requiem for two of Nachoff's late-lamented heroes, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. Another twenty minute track is the sultry, swirling "Toy Piano Meditation" on which Matt Mitchell's lengthy piano introduction is eventually joined by saxophone and Mark Duggan's subtle and varied percussion.
"March Macabre," beginning with melodramatic sounds of marching feet, is instantly engaging and continues to hold the listener's attention with its unequivocally eccentric approach. For example, Mitchell's solo on harmonium is extraordinary in its vivacity. Likewise, Orlando Hernández's (literally) show-stopping tap-dancing contribution. By contrast, the ensemble horn sections are gripping in their fluidity. On "Splatter," both Nachoff and David Binney evince tumultuous saxophone solos which vie with Nate Wood's drums and Mitchell's synthesizer gurgles.
What the prospective listener to Path Of Totality should be aware of is that Nachoff's music crosses a boundary between contemporary classical and jazz, deliberately fusing the two genres as one. So the music isn't to any degree "easy listening" nor is it meant to be. This is challenging music but not to the extent that it is totally free, but neither is it rigidly scored. The balance indeed seems optimal. It is an imaginative and ground breaking suite of compositions. However, and as stated above, the listener should be prepared to invest a great deal of time in assessing it, the better to properly assimilate this gargantuan work because it certainly merits it.
Path of Totality; Bounce; Toy Piano Meditation.
March Macabre; Splatter; Orbital Resonances.
David Binney: alto saxophone, C melody saxophone; Quinsin Nachoff: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Matt Mitchell: piano, Prophet 6, modular synthesizer, Novachord, harpsichord, Estey pump harmonium; Kenny Wollesen (1,3,4,6): drums, Wollesonic percussion; Nate Wood (1,2,5,6): drums; Jason Barnsley: 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ (2); Mark Duggan: marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales, Tibetan singing bowls (3); Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (4); Dan Urness, Matt Holman: trumpet (4); Ryan Keberle: trombone (4); Alan Ferber: trombone, bass trombone (4); Orlando Hernández: tap dance (4); David Travers-Smith: Buchla 200E analog modular system, EMS Synthi 100 analog/digital hybrid synthesizer, Arp Chroma (Rhodes) analog synthesizer, clavioline, Oberheim SEM, modular Moog (5).