There's a sense of unquiet about Chris Gestrin's Songlines debut, Stillpoint. As for the quiet part, the pianist and his quintet do spend quite a bit of time perusing the open spaces of tranquility and distance. This is not a loud record. Gestrin's solo piece "This Past Tuesday" has a strongly meditative quality, sounding like a slowed-down John Taylor attuned to Bartok. But it, like so many softer moments on the record, is surrounded by eerie streaks of light and sharpness. It's this conscious juxtaposition of constrasting emotional dynamics that distinguishes Gestrin's work. His approach should entrance open-minded listeners (though perhaps bewilder the rest). Read on if you fall in the former category.
The quintet is organized around traditional jazz instrumentation: piano, trumpet, saxophone, bass, drums. But everyone in the group except bassist André Lachance also periodically plugs into the electronic effects which constantly thread through the musicwhether through altered tones, as with the plaintive, iridescent saxophone on "Words Along A Wire," or the outright unidentifiable swishes and thuds scattered throughout "Complex One/City." These tools integrate seamlessly into the music, contributing at all levels. The fourth track relies upon periodic strikes of thunder as guideposts to mark short instrumental washes of sound. A light tinkling in the background suggests insects chirping in the night. Uneasy? Yes. But the combination goes far beyond the relentlessly unpredictable dynamics of British free improv, for example. It's far too organized, despite its regular surprises and suggestions. That makes it simultaneously more accessible and more connected to the specific elements that Gestrin brings together: ambient, electronic, traditional jazz, free improv, and modern classical.
While the group certainly functions as a very productive and integrated unit, it's clear that the vision behind Stillpoint is singular. In a very postmodern sense Gestrin seeks to bring together some unusual combinations and create something genuinely new. His effort is extremely successful.
Those with the equipment to enjoy this disc's audiophile SACD encoding have an advantage in appreciating the multi-dimensional nature of this production, though it works fine on regular systems.
Stillpoint; Never Summer Range; Outpost; Complex One/City; This Past Tuesday; Words Along A
Wire; Movement And Perspective; Cliffs And Clouds; My Painted Dream Bird; Interview With A Child;
2.23 Restart; Shades of Night Descending.