There is an HBO television series, A World of Calm, which delivers thirty-minute vignettes on subjects from trees to snowfall to the vastness of the universe. The unhurried series is designed to elicit restfulness while at the same time provoking deep concentration. The same can be said of Traces, a quartet project by pianist Russ Lossing.
Lossing is probably best known as a former sideman to the late drummer Paul Motian, plus he has series of recordings on Sunnyside, SteepleChase and Hat Hut Records (now ezz-thetics). His music is steeped in jazz, blues, and 21st century classical interpretations. He is, if anything, an iconoclast in the best sense of the word, a true innovator. Proof positive is the two song cycles he presents here. The music centers around the poems of two Zen masters, Ryōkan Taigu and Dōgen Zenji, sung by Kyoko Kitamura. She can be heard with Anthony Braxton, on the recording Accelerate Every Voice (Pyroclastic, 2020) by Cory Smythe, and Geometry with Joe Morris, Tomeka Reid, and Taylor Ho Bynum. Lossing's quartet is completed with bassist Mark Helias and bass clarinetist Adam Kolker.
The Zen influence on Lossing, and this project, is evidenced by the minimalist poetry, not quite koans but open-ended enough that the experience of this recording may have listeners contemplating their original face before their mother and father were born. Lossing's compositions and arrangements align with the stark and minimal nature of the poems. The closest connection here might be to the collaboration between saxophonist Steve Lacy and vocalist Irene Aebi. The austere semi-classical music is performed as a sober complement to the words sung. Even the wordless passages seem to convey an introspective message. The poems set to music ask for quiet contemplation, and undoubtedly a bit of self reflection is a valuable commodity in the 21st century.
Orchid; Gone; Traces; Autumn Moon; Echo; Impermanence; True Person; In The Stream; Home; Zazen.