Saxophonist/Composer Quinsin Nachoff Discovers New Approaches to Melding Exploratory Jazz and Classical Music with his Ethereal Trio
The adventurous trio's self-titled debut, out May 19 from Whirlwind Recordings, features bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss
"There's a push and pull between the visceral and cerebral, between jazz and modern classical... intensity and modernity, a brashness and in-your-face confidence of delivery." - Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
"Rather than lazily hewing to tradition, saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff and his fellow provocateurs push against boundaries and expectations using every tool in their kit. The results are as stimulating as they are sagacious." - Michael Roberts, Jazziz
In part, that's due to the musicians involved. The Ethereal Trio - whose self-titled debut will be released May 19, 2017 via Whirlwind Recordings - teams Nachoff with two of modern music's most forward-thinking artists: bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss. Both are inveterate explorers well-versed in absorbing a variety of complex musical vocabularies and expressing them in personal and compelling fashion. But the singularly, well, ethereal feeling of this music can also be credited to Nachoff's astute compositions, which blend methodically composed material with free improvisation in a way that leaves enticing, inspirational space for all three to roam.
"As a contrast to some of my other recent projects," Nachoff says, "this ensemble allows me to explore as a saxophonist, visiting different pillars and languages within the jazz tradition but striving for a personal sound and narrative."
The Ethereal Trio was birthed directly from the composer's interest in merging jazz and classical influences. Nachoff was commissioned by the Penderecki String Quartet to compose "Stars and Constellations: Scorpio," a piece for string quartet and saxophone trio, which prompted the New York-based, Canadian-born saxophonist to further the idea of establishing a chordless trio as a distinct project away from his larger ensemble successes. A stand-alone concert with seasoned Helias and Weiss created the conceptual spark, and following the writing of new material early in 2016, a series of concerts in New York, Toronto and Montreal neatly led to this recording.
Each piece on the album has its own plot and internal logic, yet the trio's predominant vibe is searching and otherworldly - hence the "ethereal" tag, which should not be understood as implying something delicate or dreamlike. This is fiery, passionate, relentlessly venturesome music that boldly seeks new discoveries in the far reaches of Nachoff's structures. The titles seem to juggle left and right brain notions in provocative ways, suggesting a mixture of art and science that finds equal stimulation in both the speculative and the cerebral.
"Clairvoyant Jest" opens the album with Nachoff's saxophone dancing across rhythmically twisted swing, characterized by double-stopped, open-stringed bass and harmonics which highlight the harmonic motion. "Gravitas" follows, focusing on freer response and reflection as its questioning saxophone motifs are interpreted by arco bass. Suggesting a change in our imaginative picture of the world, "Imagination Reconstruction" pairs sax and Helias' bass harmonics magnificently, and the ten-minute progression of "Portrait in Sepia Tones" ramps up into a superbly percussive maelstrom. "Push-Pull Topology" possesses an underlying walking bass thread, stretching and pulling different rhythms - fives over fours over threes - while the bristling landscapes of "Subliminal Circularity" summon the leader's equally raw and rippling saxophonic tones.
Quinsin Nachoff relishes the freedom and the opportunities this trio offers: "I'm regularly involved in projects which include a lot of composing, arranging and organizational effort to make them happen. This Ethereal Trio album became much more about simply playing the saxophone, which was extremely fun and rewarding - and these musicians are such a pleasure to play with. That's the world I like to live in."