This is an ambitious set of compositions by saxophonist Kevin Sun, 2 CDs which contain three suites for various-sized small groups, each with its own distinct identity.
"The Middle Of Tensions" is in six sections played by a quartet of Sun, pianist Dana Saul, bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. Most of this work explores the contrasts between Sun's blasts of singing tenor and Saul's stumbling keyboard progressions, as the bass and drums keep a bumpy rhythm going beneath them. The lead instruments dominate the first two sections but on Part III the bass and drums come into the foreground, rustling about accompanied by spare piano chords. In Part IV, Sun quietly drifts back in with a simple melody and Saul wanders over the bass and drums at increasing speed. The piece continues to change tempo and volume through the rest of its time, maintaining a pale, nervous energy through Sun's quiet blowing and Saul's dazed lines while Honor's steady timekeeping centers the music.
Sun, Stinson and Honor return on "Circle, Line," playing twelve short melodies in various configurations. Some of the highlights include Sun's warbling over a sharp drum attack on Part II, and the deep, methodical tenor and bass walking on Part VI. Stinson and Honor get lively solo turns on Parts VIII and X respectively, while the entire trio cooks on the rolling, stop-start jaunt, Part IX, built around Stinson's throbbing bass and Part XI where splashing cymbals lead into a calypso with a staccato beat.
"The Rigors of Love" takes up the entire second CD with a quintet of Sun on both saxophone and clarinet, pianist Saul, trumpeter Adam O'Farrill, bassist Simón Willson and drummer Dayeon Seok. It starts austerely with quiet trumpet and clarinet surges enveloped in piano trio swirls. Saul carries the subdued melody along while O'Farrill and Sun, now on tenor, blow melancholy statements that eventually become more agitated. On Part II the two horns bray urgently like fire alarms while the rhythm section runs about distractedly. Saul leads a long, delirious trio romp before Sun and O'Farrill return, flaring and snorting, while the piano trudges beneath them and the music eventually quiets into a hazy dream state.
Part III has an echo of the old West Coast "Cool Jazz" sound with Saul's firm chords and Seok's decorative cymbal work leading into a strolling rhythm that Sun and O'Farrill slide into easily, playing off each other like Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. Their byplay is fun but the extended soloing and pulsing group work which follows goes on so long it threatens to lose direction.
There is a lot to absorb in the mixture of ideas that Kevin Sun presents here. Things slip out of focus in a couple of places but the meandering cool of "Rigors of Love," the short, sharp bursts of "Circle, Line" and the dreamy fog of "Middle of Tensions" all have their good points. In addition, the musicians with him do really well in bringing his ideas to life. This music is a bit elusive on first hearing but the more you listen to it, the more you hear.
The Middle of Tensions I; The Middle of Tensions II; The Middle of Tensions III; The Middle of Tensions IV; The Middle of Tensions V; The Middle of Tensions VI; Circle Line I; Circle, Line II; Circle, Line III; Circle, Line IV; Circle, Line V, Circle Line VII; Circle, Line VIII; Circle, Line IX; Circle Line X; Circle, Line XI; Circle, Line XII; The Rigors of Love I; The Rigors of Love II; The Rigors of Love III.