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Jack Cooper & Jeff Tobias: Tributaries


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Jack Cooper & Jeff Tobias: Tributaries
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus claimed that "No one ever steps in the same river twice," as everything is in flux and constantly changing. By the same logic we might say that no jazz musician ever plays the same piece twice. Now consider the album Tributaries, a river-inspired work created by Jack Cooper (guitar) and Jeff Tobias (saxophone). On the calm surface it all seems pre-composed and constant, yet in the puddles of space there is scope for both men to interpret and improvise. Performed live this album would still be the same river, but each time the artists would be new people in new waters.

Cooper is the mainstay behind British art-rock band Modern Nature, whose jazz inclinations contain a shiver of folk-horror. Tobias is a member of New York jazz-psych group Sunwatchers and has numerous eclectic session credits. Tributaries contains two lengthy and compatible tracks, "Wicken" and "Debden," named after feeder streams of the River Cam in Cambridgeshire, England. The music has echoes of older times, or maybe the magic one finds along quiet riverbanks.

Minimal it certainly is, with Cooper's single guitar notes feeling more like piano prods. His input is sharp and glinting, where the sax is full of gentle sustain. A solid hardness meets shining softness here in an orderly flow. With its condensed sound, Tributaries relates to December Concert by Bill MacKay and Matthew Lux (ears&eyes, 2014) but in truth this project goes some way beyond, say, a Colin Stetson or Moondog work in its naked essence. Cooper is an admirer of Evan Parker (who records with Modern Nature), Anthony Braxton, Grant Green and Derek Bailey.

Tobias often imitates or closely shadows Cooper's deft chords and pickings. Like a mirror that reflects each other's thoughts, these instrumentals really convey a sense of two musicians confiding. This could be a soundtrack to events only they have witnessed. Tributaries suggests stillness yet its air is vibrating with mystery. Time is suspended, with imagined characters caught in their own friezes, in bright afternoon sunlight or on a crystal winter morn. Tobias offers a haunting range of timbres from sweet swellings to tremors and gurglings. The vibe is pastoral, langorous and hazy featuring long moments of silence, yet within the silence lies something anxious, almost supernatural. In that sense, Tributaries is as much Nordic as English with its spartan and pensive themes. It has a scenic presence where colour, texture and tone are everything. Appropriate enough when we learn that Cooper was once in a group called Ultimate Painting.

Track Listing

Wicken; Debden.


Jack Cooper - Guitar: guitar; Jeff Tobias: saxophone.

Album information

Title: Tributaries | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Astral Spirits

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