For many centuries composers have set to music the different seasons each new year has to offer (lately, some show the tendency of disappearing more and more. Seasons, not composers). Baroque composer Vivaldi's very straightforward division in four on "Le Quattro Stagioni" has to be one of the most prominent examples. Saxophonist and composer Ben Wendel however was inspired by 19th century superstar Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Les Saisons" when in January of 2015 he decided to document a series of 12 different duet collaborations over the span of 12 months. Joshua Redman, Gilad Hekselman and Shai Maestro are only some of the prominent musicians Wendel invited to play with him and record on video in order to make the project exclusively available on Youtube.
At last, these compositions now appear in a physical format as well, even though in a heavily altered instrumentation and therefore entirely newly arranged. Aaron Parks, Eric Harland, Matt Brewer and Gilad Hekselman, who'd already been collaborators in the duet sessions, return, and this time aroundunite for an inspired and highly energetic delivery of "January" through "December."
Of course, it would seem natural to draw immediate comparisons between the alternative versions of the songs, but there are no losers on either side and comparing would be pointless. While the intimate setting of two instruments brings to the forefront the core texture of the compositions, this group effort is of much more atmospheric nature and focused on rhythm and interplaytherefore an entirely different affair. The year begins with fresh energy and Wendel couldn't have chosen a better cast of musicians to induce and spread this dynamism across the speakers. Hekselman's modern guitar sound and slick phrasing perfecty matches Parks' melodic piano accompanimentwhich remains rich in triads throughoutwhile Harland holds his kit tightly restless. Brewer's calm strokes on double bass keep the band grounded and make room for Wendel to experiment with delay layers on his saxophone playing.
Spring passes like a train and its melodies still resonate all through the first months of summer, the latter being interpreted in a calmer manner, spreading a gloomy, almost ghostly ambiance. "September" kicks off the autumn days with new lifemaybe not so much a paradox depiction of nature's cycle itself, but the people's lives it surrounds. The revived rhythmic intensity stays prominent on "October," whereas "November" gives way for blues-tinged piano swirls and fittingly traditional guitar work by Hekselman.
Much about The Seasons is impressive. From the wide pallet of styles to the uniformity in execution that holds said diversity together as a whole. Wendel proves that he's studied past and present musical currents and doctrines well and that he has many ideas of what Jazz might hold for the future. By binding all of this together with the help from some of the best jazz musicians of their generation Wendel has crafted one of the year's absolute highs.
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