After numerous sideman appearances with a wide swath of the jazz world, from Albert Tootie Heath to Greg Osby and Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Martin Nevin felt it was time to take on a more prominent role. For Tenderness is Silent, his debut disc as a leader, he's assembled a top-flight band, especially as these players are fully dialed-in to Nevin's visionone that relies much more on subtle, understated beauty than overt gestures and "look-at-me" showmanship. Pianist Sam Harris, drummer Craig Weinrib and, crucially, the dual-sax tandem of tenorist Kyle Wilson and altoist Roman Filiu, offer the perfect support for Nevin's spare, delicate compositions, and they provide just the right creative synergy needed for the music to thrive.
Nevin's eleven compositions (the title cut is reprised as the twelfth track) are consistently measured and ruminative, and they're frequently through-composed. The spartan simplicity of the pieces don't entirely preclude improvisation, but that's not the chief emphasis in this music. A good example is "As When I Was Not Yet," the fifth cut, which is constructed around an elegant melody developed with both horns in harmony, Filiu articulating the tune, before the piece opens up midway through to allow Nevin and Harris to expand it outward, ever so carefully, with just a trace of freedom before the track concludes. Nevin's melodic sensibility is strong, and this is pivotal in anchoring pieces that don't typically possess much of a developmental arc. Filiu and Wilson are indispensable to the music, as their ability to extract all the emotion and beauty from each note is what gives the album its character. The few solos they do take are quite compelling: listen to Filiu stretch out toward the end of "The First of Many Exits," for example, where his yearning statement provides intrigue as the piece fades. And Wilson's animated energy in "Sculpting in Time" gives the music a spark as the track unfolds with some extra drama.
This is not to say that Nevin, Harris and Weinrib lack their own vital chemistry, as they have worked together as a trio for years, and it shows. Each is quite comfortable with the degree of space and calm that are present here. Weinrib's restraint throughout the album is especially noteworthy, as he never overplays. Nor do Nevin and Harris, even though both players get some moments where they can stand out a bit. Nevin's rich articulation of the reprise of "Tenderness is Silent" is resonant and evocative, while Harris's exuberant chordal excursion in "In Wax" pushes the piece in a decidedly more demonstrative direction.
In the end, the song title that best captures the mood of the album isn't the title cut, but "I See It Feelingly," the eleventh track. Nevin's goal isn't to overpower or impress the listener, but rather to present a way of experiencing the music that is based on deep intuition and an emotional connection. It's a distinctive approach, particularly for a debut record, and that it works as well as it does here is a reflection of Nevin's promise as a composer and bandleader.
Tenderness is Silent; Egon; Grasp at Nothing; Its Own Brief Bloom; As When I Was Not Yet; The First
of Many Exits; Without Throat to Carry; Sculpting in Time; In Wax; A Hundred Years of Talk; I See It
Feelingly; Tenderness is Silent (reprise).
Martin Nevin: double bass; Sam Harris: piano; Craig Weinrib: drums; Kyle Wilson: tenor saxophone;
Roman Filiu: alto saxophone.
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