Canadian saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff's newest outing out on Whirlwind Recordings once again proves what was established long before: that nothing about his approach to jazz is common. As a matter of fact, if his name weren't almost exclusively mentioned in jazz publications, jazz wouldn't necessarily be the first thing that came to mind when confronted with his music. A fact that appears even more valid with regard to his new effort, Pivotal Arc.
Opening with a three- movement violin concerto, followed by a four-movement string quartet, Nachoff does his reputation as a distinguished composer justice and steps back from his instrument to make room for thoroughly wrought exercises bridging the gaps between classical music, jazz and tango. The real star of the show however is violinist Nathalie Bonin, together with whom the saxophonist came up with the idea of this collaboration in 2007, and whose vigorous violin playing takes up a large part of the climaxing moments of the music. 13 years after the birth of the idea, the two present their arguably most ambitious project to date.
Influences from late 19th century and early 20th century classical composers can be heard throughout the concerto and the string quartet, especially within the never-ending arcs of tension that refuse to be relieved, reminiscent of the string quartets by Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy or even Darius Milhaud. On the surface, Nachoff follows the basic structure of how the concerto genre is typically practiced since its historical peak in the classical music of the 18th century; three movements, the first a firm Allegro, the second a slow crescendoing exercise and the third a lively exhibition. The manner in which the instruments are successively introduced and layered on top of the main theme however is modern and contemporary through and through. Bonin accepts her soloist role with gusto and slides up and down her violin in alternation between arco and pizzicato with confidence. The prominent rhythmical presence of the drums (Satoshi Takeishi) throughout transports the jazz sensibilities into interplay and arrangement, adding fluency to an otherwise weighty stream of motifs. After the third movement works its way from tango-infused dance through quiet passages of intimate interplay between drums, vibraphone and subtle horn arrangements, a hearty horn-blowout rings the finale.
Many exciting surprises are spread across the considerably more severe movements that make up the string quartet. Naturally, four strings don't amount to the same mix of color and spatial breadth the small orchestra provides, but by employing a variety of different arco techniques the Molinari String Quartet is able add much variation to a relatively narrow voice leading, which provokes the limits of tonality. The title track closes the record. A vast 15- minute opus, "Pivotal Arc" summarizes the album by balancing the entire scope of compositional techniques and approaches to arrangement that precede it in a dynamic tour de force. Nachoff's tenor steps in for a word towards the end before the string quartet returns for a final goodbye.
The music on Pivotal Arc is both challenging and highly engaging. Few clichés can be found in the music composed by a mind that continues to stretch beyond the comfort zone of any genre. There's something strikingly inventive and vivid about Nachoff's music. This record doesn't disappoint in that regard.
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