New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: June, 2021

Lushly Allusive, Symphonic Eco-Disaster Anthems From These New Puritans

These New Puritans occupy a uniquely uneasy space between ornately symphonic rock and minimalist postrock. Their latest album Inside the Rose – streaming at Soundcloud – is somewhat icier and techier than their previous work. The obvious comparison is Radiohead, but this British band are more darkly lyrical and rely on what can be relentless grey-sky sonics instead of cynical glitchiness.

Infinity Vibraphones is an apt title for the album’s opening track, those rippling textures contrasting with ominous cloudbanks of bassy string synth. Frontman Jack Barnett’s hushed, conspiratorial vocals parse a surreal litany of elements, some radioactive and some not. A“sea of plastic horses” figures into what seems to be a dystopic scenario. His brother George’s dancing drumbeat gets trickier and then smooths out again: a more organic Radiohead with a better singer.

The formula is the same in Anti-Gravity, with spare synth and piano figures in place of the vibes: “Never get up, never give up” is the mantra. “This is a fire we can’t put out…all those wise men say nothing,” the group’s frontman intones in the brooding, tectonically shifting, new wave-tinged Beyond Black Suns. The response, through a robotic effect, is “This isn’t yesterday.”

The album’s title track has an airy intro and a staggered beat; it could be an eco-disaster parable, or simply an allusive portrait of love gone wrong. Brassy ambience rises and subsides in Where the Trees Are on Fire, with a crushingly sarcastic ersatz nursery rhyme of a lyric. Into the Fire has tumbling syncopation and unexpected hip-hop touches: it’s nowhere near as incendiary as the title would imply.

The brief string-and-piano theme Lost Angel contrasts with the loopy synths and icy Terminator soundtrack techiness of A R P: “This is not a dream, this is really happening,” the bandleader cautions .

They wrap up the album with a slow, hypnotic, circling processional theme simply titled Six. This is a good record for a rainy day when you can spend some time with it and explore its deceptive depths.

Chelsea Guo Stars on Piano and Vocals on Her New All-Chopin Album

It’s impossible to keep track of how many pianists have sent their interpretations of Chopin here over the years. If only quality matched quantity. Serendipitously, Chelsea Guo’s new album Chopin: In My Voice – streaming at Spotify – is a relatively rare exception, a very smart, insightful collection of the 24 preludes along with the the Fantaisie in F minor and three selections from Chopin’s 17 Polish Songs. Those last three are on the program because Guo distinguishes herself not only as a pianist but as a soprano.

Guo’s use of rubato is masterful. She doesn’t overdo it, so when she loosens the rhythm, there’s always an impact, and her sense of where to weave this into her phrasing – this being Chopin, it’s usually on the somber side here – is laserlike. In general, it seems she prefers to understate a piece and let the music speak for itself rather than overemote. And she takes an architectural view to the development of these works, often following a subtly crescendoing arc.

The E Minor Prelude is particularly good: Guo plays it very straight-up first time through, then backs away for an increasingly unmoored sense of terror and despair. The D Minor Prelude is on the quiet side, but with plenty of feeling and a similarly impactful rhythmic freedom. Strikingly, she hits the C Minor Prelude hard at the beginning and then lets this immortal dirge quietly trail away: if there’s anything in Chopin that’s pure autobiography, this is it, or at least it seems so in Guo’s hands.

As fans of the Preludes know, many of them are miniatures, here and gone in barely the space of a couple dozen bars. Guo typically approaches the rest of them with restraint, although there are exceptions, notably in the lickety-split torrents of the F Sharp minor prelude and the long trajectory of the “Raindrop” prelude in D flat, where she seizes the moment to revisit the sheer desolation of its E minor counterpart. Clearly, she has a close emotional connection with this music.

Guo plays the Fantaisie in F minor as a suite: glittering triumph, a jaunty bit of a dance, introduced and intermingled with wariness. Interestingly, her take of the famous Barcarolle is especially vigorous and turbulent.

She closes the album with the Polish Songs: reaching for the rafters with dramatic power in Maja Pieszczotka; holding back a bit with her vocals before busting loose with Im mir klingt ein Lied and Di Piacer Me Balza Il Cor. Something happens to Guo’s playing when she sings: all of a sudden a coy playfulness appears. This may be a function of the material, but it’s quite a contrast with the poignancy and sheer seriousness of the preludes. It’s a fair bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg of Guo’s emerging talent.

Saluting a Fearless Violinist Who Helped Keep Hope Alive Over the Past Year

[Editor’s note: this is the first in a planned series about everyday New Yorkers whose heroic work during the lockdown helped sustain live music, the arts and communities at a time when no one knew if or when we would ever return to normal. Yolanda (not her real name) is a violinist who found an unexpected new career during those dark months…and became a neighborhood institution while every attempt was being made to atomize and destroy it. Some of her personal details have been changed to protect her identity; otherwise, these are Yolanda’s own words]

“My family came to America from Venezuela when I was eleven. I had been studying violin as part of El Sistema, the national music academy. I was very fortunate. My father worked in the oil business and my mother taught piano. We lived in a good neighborhood in Caracas with a big house and a car. He got a job in New York and all of us eventually became US citizens.

When I first came to America I was shocked by how differently music is taught here. In Venezuela students were expected to take it seriously, and the teaching is at a very high level. Here, I discovered that I had much better skills than most Americans my age. I found myself playing with people who were much older, in college, or adults. My first professional job as a musician was in a mariachi band when I was thirteen. The accordionist was even younger, he was twelve!

Because I was disappointed at the level of teaching here, I did not make music the main focus of my education. My degree is in English Literature. However, until last year, I was able to support myself from teaching and playing music. I play in many different situations, at weddings, and quinces, and restaurants. I have played flamenco, and tango, and European gypsy music, but my first love is classical. I am not technically a virtuoso so in a string quartet I usually play second violin since some composers write extremely challenging parts for first violin.

When the lockdown happened last year, I lost all of my students and all of my gigs. Because I live in one of the outer boroughs, I had to travel to my students. And none of these people wanted to be exposed to someone who was riding the subway at the time, they all thought they’d catch corona from me. I was reminded of how much discrimination there is in this society, as a woman from South America teaching a bunch of rich American kids. None of them were riding the subway, but all of the employees at the pizza places and supermarkets where they were shopping had to ride it every day, and theoretically risked their lives. It was very hypocritical.

I was inspired to open an illegal bar by my friend Yesenia [not her real name], who lives in the building where New York Music Daily is located. Yesenia was working as a bartender at a Puerto Rican restaurant, and when the restaurants were all closed, she lost her income. So she decided to open her apartment as a bar so she could pay the rent. One of the guys in the building plays mariachi music, and they were talking about having a band there one night, and that is how we were introduced and I saw how successful her new career was becoming.

This was in May of last year. I had paid rent for April but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to pay for May. I called the landlord and explained my situation, everybody at the time was expecting that New York was going to be open by June. I asked if I could pay half the rent for May, and he was very understanding and said yes. As I remember, by the time it was June, it was clear that the lockdown wasn’t going to end soon and I had to find some way to come up with the rent plus the money that I owed.

So I decided to open my own bar. I was afraid to use social media so I just used my own social circle, and that grew rapidly. Yesenia has cheap rent so she was able to pay the bills from just having her bar open on Friday nights. I started with Friday nights but realized that wasn’t going to be enough. So I started doing Friday and Saturday and then I opened on Thursday also.

Was I worried about the snitch patrol? No. I am friends with my neighbors, they all got to know me when they heard me practicing during the day. When the lockdown first happened, I would stand at my window and play all kinds of things – mariachi, Bach, Vivaldi, anything I could think of – that could make people happy. So when they found out what I was doing they understood. I let them come and drink for free, which I probably shouldn’t have done because I’m sure I lost money from that.

Was I worried about the cops? No. I live in a poor neighborhood and the cops only hang out at certain places, by the subway mostly. I also learned that the police union refused to enforce the lockdown. There was a horrible racial incident on the Lower East Side in April, as I remember, and after that the cops refused to harass people for not social distancing, or wearing masks. It wasn’t the cops that shut down that Staten Island bar, or the social club in Queens that got all the publicity. It was the State Liquor Authority.

Was I worried about corona? No. By June we had seen all the studies. CNN and the tv never reported any of this, clearly because so much of their advertising money comes from big pharmaceutical companies. But it was clear from all the science that most people had natural immunity to corona, and that it was going to disappear soon anyway. A disease that can only infect one person out of six can’t survive very long before there is no one left to infect, and New York was the first place in America where there was any kind of outbreak. I’ve never seen so many healthy people as I did last year. I never once saw a sick person at my bar.

I closed my bar a couple of weeks ago. It was extremely hard work, and I was going to turn into an antisocial person if I kept it open. Many times I asked my boyfriend to come by and help because he’s a teacher and he was out of work at the time, and he could stop some of the crazier guys from asking me out and bothering me that way. I am much more cynical about men now than I was before the lockdown. They get drunk and do the stupidest things.

My clothes started to stink like smoke. My boyfriend and I had to paint the apartment to get rid of the smell. I worked longer hours than I ever did teaching or playing: running to the liquor store and the bodega for beer, carrying big boxes up the stairs, and cleaning up afterward. That was the hardest part. For months I would open at four and close officially at nine since the subway was shut down at night. But a group of customers were Uber drivers and they liked to stay late, and I didn’t want to close because I would lose money. Cleaning up a big beer mess on the floor, and then the worse mess in the bathroom at four in the morning after you’ve been standing for twelve hours, is exhausting.

In running an illegal bar for a year, I made more money than I have ever made in my life from playing music. With what I have earned, I have been able to buy a van so that I can play concerts outside of New York without having to rely on others for transportation. I was able to pay off my student loans and help my brothers financially.

Am I a lockdown profiteer? I disagree with that. I am a musician. My music career suffered very much. People think that I was just lying around doing nothing. The truth is that I was trying to get all the sleep I could get because I wasn’t getting any sleep on the weekend. If the lockdown hadn’t happened, there is no way I ever would have been involved in the bar business and I have even less desire now to do that again, now that I have seen for myself how it works.

Do I feel like I helped people out during the lockdown? I guess. I gave people a community, a place where they could hang out, when the bars were closed. I think that’s important. I learned that a bartender’s job is 90% being a therapist and 10% making drinks, so maybe I helped somebody that way. I think the most important thing I did was to prove to people that there was nothing to be afraid of. I’m from South America so I know a dictatorship when I see one. Corona was just an excuse for a very few, very rich people to try to take control of the world. We all know that now. If there was anything that I did last year that I feel strongly about, it was not letting fear take control of my life, and influencing others to do the same.

I am looking forward to returning to playing music. I would like to form my own string quartet to play works by South American composers. There are so many great ones and they are mostly unknown here, and because I have the van now, we can tour. I would also like to move to Manhattan. It’s so much easier to get around from there.”

Revealing Rachmaninoff From Sonya Bach

If an all-Rachmaninoff album contains the immortal G Minor Prelude, that’s all you need to hear to figure out if the rest of it’s any good. How does pianist Sonya Bach tackle that piece on her new album, streaming at Spotify? With a staccato that’s forceful but short of a merciless attack on the “verse,” and then a luxuriant, languid approach to the “chorus” before the menace starts up again. Her big payoff delivers the expected chills; her outro is as devious as it should be. In a word, she nails it, in a fearlessly individualistic interpretation. After that, it would be a shock if the rest of the record was anything less than superb.

And it is. The centerpiece, the slightly condensed 1931 version of the Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, as well as a handful of preludes and the Six Moments Musicaux, are every bit as purposeful and inspired. The opening movement of the sonata is on the brisk and murky side, but that’s fine: this is turbulent, troubled music. And yet, when an anxious calm settles in, Bach works the bell-like dynamics magically, whether sepulchral or otherworldly and resonant.

The second movement is a vast, clear night as reflected on Rachmaninoff’s favorite Swiss lake, maybe. Much of the time Bach rides the pedal, letting those distant points of light shimmer for all they’re worth. Some Rachmaninoff fans may have issues with the conclusion, which again is on the fast side: Bach goes for overall disquiet rather than indulging in the occasional winking, romping phrase, and she maintains that steely focus. Vladimir Horowitz played it completely the opposite way; if the highest of the High Romantic is what you get out of this, cue up one of his versions instead.

The two remaining preludes here, in D and E flat, come from the composer’s first set, op. 2 (he would write another series later). The former is on the muted side, but that’s how Rachmaninoff himself played it, as a straightforward love ballad. The latter is also quiet and almost shockingly unvarnished: no over-the-top theatrics here, Bach using subtle rubato to let a quiet triumph unleash itself.

The Moments Musicaux are where Bach decides to revel more in the Romantic. No. 1 in B Minor has a persistent, wounded wintriness punctuated by judicious little crescendos: that little path through the snow toward the end will quietly break your heart.

No.2 in E flat minor has a similar starriness, a distant rather than intimate conversation but also a showcase for Bach’s spun-crystal legato. She gives a strikingly jaunty strut to parts of No.3 in B minor, when it’s not morose or achingly lyrical.

As she does a lot on this record, Bach takes a panoramic view of No.4 in E minor rather than making it a showcase for dramatic flourishes, beyond a slam-dunk coda. No.5 in D flat comes across as a distant precursor of the famous love theme from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Bach closes with an a resonantly regal take of No.6 in C.

Linguistically speaking, Bach is correct in using “Rachmaninov” as a transliteration from the Russian. However, in innumerable reviews of music by the king of Russian Romanticism over the years, this blog has gone with the anglicized double F too many times to backtrack and do endless rounds of copy-and-replace.

Very Important: We Need to Crush Andrew Cuomo’s Sneaky Eleventh-Hour, Unconstitutional Regulation

Last Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo finally relinquished the dictatorial powers he’d assumed when he announced the lockdown in March of 2020. However, he replaced the lockdown with a last-minute regulation which calls for $1000 fines for those of us who haven’t taken the needle of death if we go out in public without a muzzle on, or go within six feet of another person.

This is the key text in the gubernatorial order: “Any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance, unless such person is fully vaccinated,”

Much as this is a violation of the Nuremberg Code, and beyond that, completely unconstitutional, we need to jump on this immediately and get our representatives to overturn it. Please follow this link

Also, here are important contacts who need to be barraged with phone calls and emails. Let’s show the lockdowners that the game is over and we’ve reclaimed our freedom!

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Albany: Telephone (518) 455-2585, (518) 455-2715
Albany: Fax (518) 426-6844, (518) 426-6811
District: Telephone (914) 423-4031, Fax (914) 423-0979,
New York City: Telephone (212) 298-5585, Fax (212) 298-5623
scousins@nysenate.gov
https://www.facebook.com/andrea.stewartcousins
@AndreaSCousins

Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie
Albany: (518) 455-3791, District: (718) 654-6539
speaker@nyassembly.gov
Twitter: @carlheastie
https://www.facebook.com/carl.heastie

Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), (518) 455-2451, (212) 674-5153

Asm. Deborah Glick (D), (518) 455-4841, (212) 674-5153

A Stunning Ravi Shankar Rarity Rescued From Obscurity

There’s enough Ravi Shankar online to listen to for a year without a break. Needless to say, pretty much every time he sat down with his sitar, the J.S. Bach of Indian music was spine-tingling to witness. Today’s album is a rarity. Ravi Shankar Live in Hollywood 1971 – streaming at Bandcamp – was recorded at a house concert and only released posthumously. It’s Shankar at his most succinct. In concert, he could and would often go on for hours, but three of the four ragas here are especially brief for him. Poignancy, humor, relentless suspense, spectacular peaks, it’s all here, in slightly smaller but no less psychedelic packages than usual.

He opens with a relatively rare morning raga, Raga Vibhas, slowly and meticulously building a low midrange melody, the sun gradually looming over the horizon as he brightens the textures. Yet immediately, he introduces a persistent chromatic unease. It’s extraordinary how he senses the need to pick up the pace at almost exactly the midway mark, not knowing how this will end! The late introduction of the tabla gives Shankar the chance to drive toward a big crescendo with his clustering phrases. Wryly twinkling riffs draw a chuckle or two, then Shankar focuses in with an incisive attack.

Raga Parameshwari is the centerpiece, the sitarist at the top of his game through another morning raga that goes on for well over fifty minutes. The long, steady, lingering opening alap, Shankar finally descending to rich, suspensefully warpy low tones, also features spare, allusive tabla. The sitar builds intensity with recurrent variations on an allusively chromatic, tantalizingly unresolved rising phrase, then the music warms, rising and falling, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. A momentary, hypnotic, minimalist lull is breathtaking (for everybody, it seems) and signals a first round of rapidfire volleys, supersonic sizzle intermingled within the persistent metallic gleam.

Shankar dedicates the brightly lilting, relatively brief Raga Dunh to the people of Bangladesh, imperiled at the time by a Pakistani invasion. The single, bracingly rising opening riff, plaintive, resonant tones and classic, stairstepping moment in the alap that opens Raga Sindhi Bhairavi only hint at the torrential power Shankar  will generate. Considering its origins, this raga has more Middle Eastern ambience than most of the others in the cycle. And yet, Shankar is just as rambunctiously funny in places as he is slashingly incisive elsewhere. Of all the ragas here, this is the most straightforward and unrelenting, his volleys of tremolo-picking and wild bends rising throughout a long, stunning coda.

The Eva Quartet Take Ancient, Otherworldly Bulgarian Choral Music to New Places

Bulgarian choral quartet the Eva Quartet’s new album Minka – streaming at Spotify – is a lot more eclectic than most collections of centuries-old, otherworldly music from the Balkans. In the same vein as the original popularizers of the tradition, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – with whom all four members of the quartet have sung – they take their otherworldly close harmonies, surreal whoops and shivery ornamentation to more recent places.

On this album, that means hints of Indian rhythms and melody, plus more modern songs by Stefan Dragostinov, Ivan Spassov and Dimitar Hristov, leader of the Bulgarian National Radio Folk Orchestra. As you would expect, most of the numbers here are on the short side, under three minutes, sometimes much less, occasionally bolstered by percussion or gadulka. This recording is often balanced by the high harmonies in one channel, the lower ones in the other, which actually works against the tension created by the harmonic adjacencies and microtones common to Bulgarian music. On the other hand, if you’re looking to isolate your own harmony when singing this, it makes your job a lot easier.

Sometimes the innovations – doot-doot rhythms in the fourth track, for example – add a humorous touch. Elsewhere, the four women – Gergana Dimitrova, Sofia Kovacheva, Evelina Christova and Daniela Stoichkova – ]energetically walk the maze of tricky rhythms, melismas and the occasional thicket of tonguetwisting syllables. By contrast, slow overlays of melody shift through the sonic picture in Spassov’s austere Balno Li Ti E Sinjo Ljo….only to give way to rapidfire operatics.

The aching, muted lustre of Razvivay, Dobro Povivay (Let’s Go, Get Your Clothes On) contrasts with the vocal acrobatics of the miniature after that, as well as Hristov’s Leme Dreme, with its playful tug-of-war between gadulka and vocals. And the drones of the album’s final cut are stunningly unwavering. Folk music never stands still: it’s always evolving, and this album is a good idea of where one of the world’s edgiest, most popular flavors is going.

Vivid, Picturesque, Purposeful Violin Jazz From Tomoko Omura

Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.

She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.

Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.

Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want

Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.

Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Put Out an Irrepressibly Funny, Wise, Intense New Album

Marc Ribot‘s credentials as a guitarist were firmly ensconsed in the pantheon decades ago. But he’s just as formidable a composer and songwriter. As an incorrigible polystylist, he’s done everything from searing, noisy jazz (check out his Live at the Vanguard album if raw adrenaline is your thing), to one of the alltime great film noir albums, to one of the best janglerock records of this century (Tift Merritt’s Traveling Alone). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a career that goes back to the 80s. Ribot’s latest release, Hope – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically all-over-the-map mix with his Ceramic Dog Trio, which includes Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Ches Smith on drums. In an era of lethal lockdowns, and now Cuomo’s sneaky attempt to establish apartheid,, Ribot’s irrepressible sense of humor is more welcome than ever.

The opening track, B Flat Ontology has a withering cynicism matched by an underlying heartbreak. Over a loopy minor arpeggio with just a few turnarounds and tantalizing flickers of wah, Ribot mercilessly pillories all the wannabes in this city. Trendoids, noodly Berklee guitar types, phony poets, performance artists and others get what’s coming to them. Singer-songwriters in particular get a smack upside the head: “Each one more earnest than the next, slip off layers of pretention til there’s nothing left.”

The album’s second track, Nickelodeon is a reggae tune with wah guitar, organ and a lyric as surreal as anything that came out of Jamaica forty years ago. The instrumental Wanna very closely approximates a big Bowie hit. Ribot then takes aim at limousine liberal yuppie puppy entitlement in The Activist, a hilariously verbose parody of cancel culture set to a bubbling, looping 90s trip-hop groove.

Ismaily’s jaunty, loose-limbed bassline anchors Bertha the Cool (gotta love this guy’s titles), a spoof of guitarslingers who worship at the feet of Wes Montgomery. They Met in the Middle has shrieky sax, a tightly clustering English Beat-style bassline and a subtle message about doing your own thing.

The Long Goodbye is a ten-minute epic, Ribot’s austere rainy-day intro finally giving way to Ismaily’s looming chords, then the guitarist hits his distortion pedal for the blue-flame savagery he may be best known for. Maple Leaf Rage, the album’s centerpiece and longest track, is a diptych, slowly rising from his spare, lingering  figures over squirrelly drums to a march, the guitarist’s smoldering lines expanding to another one of his signature conflagrations. If you want to introduce someone to the Ribot catalog, this is as good a stepping-off point as any.

The trio wind up the record with Wear Your Love Like Heaven, a slowly vamping, jaggedly pastoral tableau. And it’s available on vinyl!

Bittersweeet, Imaginative Large Ensemble Jazz From Johannes Wallmann

Pianist Johannes Wallmann’s new Elegy for an Undiscovered Species – streaming at Bandcamp – is an unusual and strikingly tuneful big band jazz album. For one, the lineup – jazz quintet plus a fourteen-piece string orchestra – is unorthodox, harking back to the days of Charlie Parker With Strings. Yet it also engages the orchestra as much as the rest of the group. It’s also remarkably groove-oriented. Conventional wisdom is unless you’re Ron Carter or Buddy Rich, bass and drums in a big band are a thankless task. Not so here.

Don’t let the album title fool you: it’s about contrasts and shades far more than the darkness it implies. The group open with the epically swaying, eleven-minute title track, the strings rustling, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen working the bittersweet hook over the clustering groove of bassist Nick Moran and drummer Allison Miller. Stephens takes a pensive solo as the orchestra darken the atmosphere, Jensen pushing outward with her microtones and volleys. Wallmann’s solo delivers spirals and erudite blues phrasing as the orchestra rise behind him, with bracing exchanges amid the strings.

The second number, Two Ears Old is a fond ballad, wafting horns contrasting with uneasily circling piano underneath, Wallmann and then Stephens pushing the clouds away and choosing their spots as they climb. Miller’s whispery thicket of sound and nimbly altered shuffle in tandem with Moran’s tersely dancing lines beneath Jensen’s lyrical ambered solo are masterful. They reprise the theme at the end of the album as a bit of a High Romantic feature for cello and piano.

In Threes has rhythms and unsettled harmonies shifting around a piano pedal note as the band gathers momentum. Wallmann eventually abandons a twinkling righthand solo for warpy, spacy synth: the bizareness of the individual strings answering has to be heard to be believed. Whatever you think of this, you can’t say it’s not original.

A looping, syncopated bass riff anchors Expeditor, bright horns versus hushed, expectant strings, Jensen’s calm, floating solo contrasting with the bandleader’s loose-limbed attack and devious exuberance from Miller afterward. The ending is unexpected and amusing.

Longing, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most lyrical and strongest track, Wallmann in lounge lizard mode as the strings waft and then recede. The strings carry the melody. revealing the moody bolero underneath, Stephens ranging from blippy to balmy.

The strings develop a windswept, cinematic tableau to open The Greater Fool, then the rhythm section bring in a clave for Jensen’s low-key, amiable solo, Wallmann delivering some coy ragtime allusions. Miller’s shamanic solo as the modalities darken could be the high point of the record.