Sydney-based saxophonist Sam Gill maintains a prodigious range of projects, ranging from the heady post-bop intricacies of his Coursed Waters quartet to Mind on Fire, an exploratory duo with his brother, vibraphonist Brad Gill. What animates Gill's music is a search for ways of bringing freedom to compositional forms, and finding surprising detours that defy expectations. This modus operandi is amply present on Perspectival, a subdued chamber jazz recording that merges rigor with indeterminacy, performed with consummate skill by Scattered, his most recent quintet.
The music here is elliptical, always providing the feeling that there is something more left unsaid, as though the compositions are hiding as much as they are revealing. While this can make for challenging listening at times, as one might want a little more to hang onto, there's no questioning the palpable air of mystery that pervades the recording. Gill has sympathetic colleagues whose self-effacement allows them to subordinate their individual voices to the whole; their virtuosity is held in reserve, the better to realize the quintet's subtle intercommunication. Gill's alto saxophone blends nicely with Paul Cutlan's Bb and bass clarinets, while Luke Sweeting's accordion floats delicately amidst the oblique passages and ephemeral grooves provided by guitarist Yutaro Okuda and bassist Jacques Emery.
Listeners seeking well-defined melodies or obvious rhythmic structures should look elsewhere. While there are moments where the musicians converge in enticing ways, more commonly the music relies upon small, often independent gestures, but with a tenuous shared vocabulary that keeps the music cohesive. Aside from two very brief curios, the heart of the album involves three lengthy explorations, each coming in at around 15-17 minutes. Without a percussionist, the music's momentum often hinges on the work of Okuda and Emery, who provide a steady rhythmic center for much of "Linger," the album's most immediately engaging track. The two establish a compelling, gently-driving pulse, especially welcome in supporting an exuberant solo from Gill before the piece gradually quiets, with a soft-hued, lyrical finish.
"De Chirico & Lygra" and "Scattered & Room to Move" are considerably less direct in their impact, with the group's chamber-based sensitivities emerging fully. Interestingly, "De Chirico & Lygra" is the one track featuring percussion, although it's a collective endeavor, with assorted interjections enhancing the group's improvisatory palette rather than providing a clear rhythmic foundation. "Scattered & Room to Move," the closer, is even more affecting, with the five players starting independently, only to gradually realize fleeting beauty and fervid intensity through their exchanges. It may be the group's most successful realization of Gill's concept, as he seeks to fuse seamlessly the modes of composition and improvisation.
It's not an album that will jump out and grab the listener, but the patience required to let it work its magic will bear rewards. Gill's distinctive aesthetic is a valuable one, and this is an especially potent ensemble for enacting it.
Now, the Dancing Coins; Linger; De Chirico & Lygra; A Thought that Permeates; Scattered &
Room to Move.
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