Ambition is good. Saxophonist Kevin Sun has it. He proves it by releasingbefore attaining his thirtieth birthdayThe Sustain of Memory, a cinematic two-disc set of atmospheric avant-garde music in trio, quartet and quintet settings, which maintains a start-to-finish focus of an expansive artistic vision.
"I've always been drawn to sprawling, encyclopedic or maximalist works of art," Sun says. And he has produced an excellent and beautiful example of the genre. The music is divided into three "suites": the six part "The Middle Of Tensions," the eleven section "Circle Lines," and the highlight, the forty-eight-minute, three-part "The Rigors Of Love," which takes up the entire second disc.
The cryptic titling of the pieces and Andrew Katzenstein's off-kilter but erudite and insightful liner noteswhich may require multiple readings, just as the music demands multiple listeningssuggest a cerebralism to the sounds. Perhaps. But Part III of "The Rigors Of Love" (a quintet offering), which begins in a somber mood, evolves into a smile-inducing swing, as lovely as anything coming from a more mainstream frame of mind, featuring a liquid weaving of Sun's sax and Adam O'Farrill's trumpet lines, accompanied by Dana Saul's austere piano sparkle. At twenty-five minutes in length, the tune goes through several more evolutions: a segment of O'Farrill blowing brassy and bold, with Sun going to a deep, Ben Webster tone; then a shift (Sun on clarinet) to a twilight stealth mode, the rhythm section whispering then stepping back to bright daylight (Sun switching back to sax), the band exuding a palpable joy.
"The Middle Of Tensions," a quartet section, opens disc one. The Part 1 arrangement and Dana Saul's quirky, searching piano work bring pianist Andrew Hill to mindavant-garde sounds that keep a tentative connection to the straight ahead. With Part II the word "kaleidoscopic" comes to mind, with continually shifting rhythms, piano scurryings, the typewriter tick-tack of Matt Honor's drum sticks.
"Cable Lines" is a trio affairsax, bass and drumsmaking for a sparer sound than the other sections of the set. Presented in trio, duo and solo segments, the twelve short vignettes serve as distillations of Sun's borderless musical world view.
So: The Sustain Of Melody: Ambitious? Yes, successfully so. Excellent in concept and execution? Yes, that too.
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.
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