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Adam Kolker: Reflections

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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If, by some twist of fate, winds and reeds player Adam Kolker were not to be a musician, he would certainly have made a name for himself as a painter. Here too he would have had a choice of media, for he would have done extremely well as an impressionist whose canvases recalled the brilliance of Monet, or a water colorist who would have done the Japanese tradition proud. As it happens, he seems to have accomplished all of this exquisite "visual artistry" in one fell swoop, on the musical canvas of his extraordinary album, Reflections. Kolker's warm, moist tone is resplendent in the gold and rust tones of dusk, but somehow he does not stop there. Although his tenor saxophone is redolent with the scent of verdant countryside and things suburban, he can slip into an urbane mode that reflects a deeply urban mentality. In this respect he sounds like a creature of the night, surrounded by a small coterie of fine musicians, playing his heart out, and echoing the huge sadness and small joys of the night.

Possessed of immense talent, unlike many of his peers Kolker does not so much play as caress his instrument with his warm, diaphanous breath. Whether he is playing flutes, clarinets or tenor saxophone—his main instrument, here at least—he employs such softness of touch and expression that he seems to make love to his instrument. Kolker plays long meandering lines that he seems to break up only when expressive thoughts are complete. Then he returns with a line, equally long, that seems to sing in response to the one he just played earlier. The result is that Kolker's soli seem to be imaginary conversations that appear to be carried out between characters in his songs. "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "Reflection" become beautifully told stories as well as exquisite painterly images, all rolled into one. Their characters are in motion, caressing one another, whispering sweet nothings while assisting in the unfurling of their stories.

Even when Kolker joins forces with voice artiste Judi Silvano, on "Boscarob," he merely substitutes one of the composition's characters with Silvano's voice, as they skitter and slide and jabber their way through Silvano's beguiling song. Silvano is, of course, her inimitable self—and the glue that holds the song together, as it careens its way to a startling ending, with Kolker holding his own, and playing an excellent foil to the singer. Again, on "Nature Boy," it is vocalist, Kay Matsukawa and Kolker who turn the classic Eden Abhez chart into a truly gorgeous mystery kept alive by her magical voice and playing that is both majestic and memorable.

Even Thelonious Monk's rarely played masterpiece, "Let's Call This," and drummer Billy Mintz's "Flight" seem to fit Kolker's sensibility—or at least he makes them fit as if they were his own, on this album of unforgettable splendor.

Track Listing: Soon It's Gonna Rain; Let's Call This; Reflection; Boscarob; Flight; Song Along The Way; Fez; Nature Boy; Kevin's Birthday Blues; Flight (Reprise).

Personnel: Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Hébert: bass; Billy Mintz: drums; John Abercrombie: guitar (1, 9); Russ Lossing: piano (3, 4, 6); Judy Silvano: voice (4); Kay Matsukawa: voice (8).

Title: Reflections | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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