A Brilliantly Edgy, Uneasy New Album From Saxophonist Amanda Gardier
Are you vaccilating between being glued to the news and the endless online scuttlebutt about the coronavirus scare…and just wanting to dive into the most escapist thing possible (that a person can do without going within six feet of anybody else)? Alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier‘s album Flyover Country – streaming at Spotify – is a profoundly rewarding listen for anyone who might feel that way. With her fiery, intense compositions, picturesque sensibility and wry sense of humor, she reminds that there’s a whole big world out beyond our cabin fever dreams.
The opening track is titled Midwestern Gothic: bristling with uneasy chromatics and understatedly dramatic crescendos, it’s an unselfconsciously dark showstopper. Gardier sticks with those chromatics tersely and bitingly over similar piano from Ellie Pruneau and the rhythm section’s brisk, tight swing throughout the second track, Boss Lady: you don’t want to mess with this chick! Pruneau’s phantasmagorically clustering solo adds highwire intensity, up to an almost gleefully crushing insistence from the whole band.
Built around a warily catchy, stairstepping two-note phrase, Void is the album’s first ballad, Gardier’s airy, resonant lines over Pruneau’s fanged, glistening chords and drummer Carrington Clinton’s emphatic cymbals, bassist Brendan Keller-Tuberg taking over the melody with a subtle, darkly balletesque pulse.
Bubbly has a slow, funky sway: you expect to hear a Rhodes but the piano remains. Gardier matter-of-factly but enigmatically expands on what in lesser hands would be a generic soul groove, up to another mighty, clenched-teeth crescendo. As you might expect, 40 Tattoos opens with circling, gothic piano, Gardier calm amid the phantasmagoria. Then it gets very funny. Is this a revenge song, maybe?
Gardier floats and sails uneasily over steady, shady circles from the bass in Hidden, a duet. She brings the band back for the persistent shifts of Redheaded Uncle, Pruneau careening from one side of the fence to the other. Just when you think the dude is a blithe spirit, Gardier shifts the syncopation toward disquiet: nice guy but don’t mess with him.
The loose-limbed rhythm of the album’s title track belies a serious, purposeful focus, more succinctly than the previous number, with variations on a simple rising bassline, Gardier switching to soprano for extra clarity and bite. She closes the record with the balmy but unsettled Sea Day, opening with a slow forghorn-and-bell motif over the cymbals’ waves, Pruneau adding a spare, bittersweet solo echoed by Gardier. This could be one of the best jazz albums of the year.