A pianist of uncommon sensitivity and graceful temperament, Julian Shore
crafts music with atmosphere and feeling, aiming for emotional depth rather than settling for typical jazz devices. On Where We Started
, his third release, he offers eight well-honed tracks which are both evocative and nuanced; while they might not win over the uninitiated in a crowded club, they offer plenty of introspective delights to listeners prepared to settle in with the music.
Joined by a fine ensemble, Shore has the resources he needs to establish the prevailing mood. Like Shore, saxophonist Dayna Stephens
has terrific technique but he keeps it in check, with an empathetic tone which is quite striking, especially on the slower numbers. His gorgeous playing on George Gershwin
's "Oh Bess, Oh Where's My Bess," one of the album's three non-Shore compositions, is a highlight. Stephens appeared on Shore's previous release, Which Way Now?
(Tone Rogue Records, 2016), and he clearly grasps the logic of Shore's approach. So too does drummer Colin Stranahan
, another sideman on Which Way Now?
, whose subtlety and gently surging dynamics undergird these expansive pieces. Bassist Edward Perez
and guitarist Ben Monder
also play crucial roles in the band; fans of Monder's work with Maria Schneider
or on his own releases will instantly appreciate the texture and ambience he provides.
At the heart of the album are four landscape-based pieces. "Preludio" ushers in the music with an impressionistic opening from Shore, before Monder's guitar enhances the theme, and alto saxophonist Caroline Davis
accentuates the track's power with a tenacious solo. Next come "Winds, Currents" and "Tunnels, Speed," each of which conveys the motion and sweep of Shore's music. Monder infuses the latter track with some extra adrenaline as he stretches out on a rangy solo with a jagged edge. Stephens takes an especially strong turn on the fourth part of the series, "Marshes, Amphibians," transitioning from his trademark delicacy into a progressively urgent voice as the piece unfolds.
As richly-hued as these pieces are, one might quibble whether additional electronics are a help or a hindrance; Stephens' use of EWI on some of the tracks, and Shore's own synthesizer work on "Nemesis," can at times become a bit cloying. But, for the most part, this thoughtful and skillfully-played music effectively conjures sentiment without sliding into sentimentality.
I: Preludio; II: Winds, Currents; III: Tunnels, Speed; O Vos Omnes; Nemesis; IV: Marshes, Amphibians; Oh Bess, Oh Where’s
My Bess; Where We Started.