Drummer Dylan Jack
has long been a fixture on the Boston jazz scene and, with assorted partnerships including fellow Bostonians Charlie Kohlhase
, Jeb Bishop
and Bill Lowe
, he has kept very busy. But, of late, his most fruitful collaboration may be his recordings with guitarist Eric Hofbauer
. The two released the first-rate Remains of Echoes
in 2019 (Creative Nation Music), a wide-ranging effort to reinterpret pieces from the jazz tradition and beyond, from Thelonious Monk
and Charles Mingus
and Jimi Hendrix
. But the duo also works together in Jack's own quartet, whose first release, Diagrams
(Creative Nation Music, 2017), included clarinetist/saxophonist Todd Brunel
and bassist Anthony Leva
. Now, with Brunel stepping aside in favor of trumpeter Jerry Sabatini
, the quartet has another iteration and an excellent one at that, with a compelling group dynamic which gives Jack's complex compositions an accessible edge.
There is a restless quality to Jack's muse. The four tracks here rarely stay within a particular time signature or thematic motif for long, instead constantly moving in new directions. While, in other circumstances, this could make for a disjointed listening experience, the band functions as a single organism, with a fluid cohesiveness which gives the music its fundamental integrity. The opening piece, "Gauchais Reaction," exemplifies the group's communicative telepathy, with a basic propulsion which doesn't seem explicitly defined so much as it emerges organically. The music's pulse develops through the combination of the players' individual contributions; Jack is as much a colorist as a timekeeper, and Leva's bowed bass during the first segment is as melodic as Sabatini's or Hofbauer's own lines. The piece isn't played purely "free," exactly, and yet it celebrates freedom. Even when the music does settle into a more recognizable groove, there is still a feeling that the music could veer off unexpectedly, as it frequently does.
Part of the album's charm lies in its approach to space. Openness abounds, with a refusal to over-determine the music through filling up every available moment with excessive sound. The two parts of "The Twelve-Foot Man" have a more defined structure than "Gauchais Reaction," but they are a study in contrasts, with shifts from punchy attacks to more restrained maneuvers. Sabatini's aggressive lines have plenty of acerbity, but his sensitivity makes possible the music's more tempered moments, especially during Part 2. Even Jack's potent solo contains a subtle lyricism, paving the way for Sabatini's reflective musings.
The last piece, "Epitaph," utilizes what is possibly the world's oldest composition: the first or second-century Epitaph of Seikilos, articulated by Leva on sintir. It is another glimpse of the group's ability to say more with less, as Sabatini's expressive muted trumpet floats atop a sparse backdrop, with Jack's subtle brushwork giving just a hint of momentum before the piece opens up, Hofbauer taking a more garrulous role amidst the band's rising energy level before it once again recedes, as Leva returns to the central theme on sintir and the music fades.
Although at just over thirty-five minutes it is a relatively short listen, Jack's music contains more than enough intricacy and appeal to justify numerous encounters.
Gauchais Reaction; The Twelve-Foot Man (Part 1); The Twelve-Foot Man (Part 2); The Epitaph of Seikilos.
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