Canadian drummer Nick Fraser follows up his trio CD Too Many Continents (Clean Feed, 2015) featuring pianist Kris Davis and saxophonist Tony Malaby with this quartet date also featuring Malaby, consummated by cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton. Hence, the leader imparts an atypical vista, contoured by his scrappy or terse drumming, where structural song-forms seamlessly intertwine with freedom of expression. It's like a loosely wrapped package framed on solid foundations that morph into liquefied digressions and gradually ascending theme building episodes.
Fraser's holistic approach to the kit is evident throughout, amid his punctual cymbal swashes, regimented patterns and sweeping fills while frequently using a metronome-like mindset via stilted beats and plush tonal shadings. On the stark ballad "Sketch #9," Clutton and Downing harmonize with Malaby but also pepper and prod him into executing dense fabrics of sound. Yet several works are designed with medium-tempo experimental processes as the band navigates through nooks, crannies and detours. However, the longest running piece (10:29) "Sketch #20/22 commences with Malaby's extended notes atop a Chamber-like narrative spiced with a free-form improvisational domain that opens up during the bridge. Moreover, Fraser's snappy rim shots and an off-kilter Latin groove ups the ante in parallel with Downing who fervently plucks his strings. Here, Malaby sneaks in underneath for a pleasantly bizarre opus that evolves into scorching progressions.
From an avant-garde outlook, Fraser incorporates a curiously interesting set of checks and balances into the big picture with a refreshing musical vernacular, abetted by like-minded professionals who deliver the goods in exemplary fashion.
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