Quinsin Nachoff in a State of “Flux”


FLUX / NACHOFF: Tightrope; Complimentary Opposites; Mind’s Ear I; Mind’s Ear II; Astral Echo Poem; Tilted / Quinsin Nachoff, t-sax; David Binney, a-sax; Matt Mitchell, pn/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer org/Moog Rogue/org; Kenny Wollesen, dm/timp/tubular bells/perc / Mythology Records MR0012

Canadian tenor saxist and composer Quinsin Nachoff describes his music as fusing together eclectic influences from both jazz and classical music, yet resists the label of “Third Stream.” Nachoff says that he likes “mixing and matching things. I try to find commonalities between them to put people in different landscapes to improvise in.” He describes Flux, his latest album, as the combination of two pairings, his tenor saxophone with David Binney’s alto and the opposites-attract meething of keybord player Matt Mitchell and percusisonist Kenny Wollensen. “The concept was to put more heady material that Matt can deal with,” Nachoff puts it, “on top of this really organic feel that Kenny does and have it work as a band sound.”

The aural result is something akin to Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” only with a jazz rhythm aligned with logical struetures. What’s interesting about Nachoff’s music is that the structures don’t sound classically-influenced, though they are, and the reason they don’t is that, even moreso than Charles Mingus or George Russell, Nachoff uses the musical syntax of jazz. Thus in the opening piece, Tightrope, one hears far more of Monk and Coleman than of any specific classical composer, yet upon careful listening the structure is there. In fact, his structures are even tighter and more logical than those of, say, Henry Threadgill, to name another jazz composer (see my profile of Threadgill here) whose work has great intricacy. The difference is that Threadgill relies on a layering of notes at random intervals determined by the performers, whereas Nachoff’s music actually develops along classical lines. I’m sure that the solo spots he leaves open are improvised, but even then the solos are intended to complement the written sections. Rhythmically, I would say that Nachoff varies his beat by juxtaposing cells of music in slightly different tempos and beat-structures, but once again, it is logically worked out in advance and not left to chance.

He also likes to use different sections with contrasting tempos, though not to the extent that Mingus did, constantly jumping back and forth between them. At around the seven-minute mark in Tightrope, for instance, he suddenly has a section (featuring David Binney on alto sax) in a very slow tempo, and it stays there for about a minute before regaining its earlier momentum. Both Nachoff and his sidemen can play outside jazz, and do so from time to time, but never consistently so in order to preserve musical order. This kind of music was first tested out, in a simpler form, by such groups as the John Kirby Sextet, later expanded upon by Miles Davis’ Nonet. I found it amusing that Nachoff called his second tune Complimentary Opposites rather than Complementary, apparently alluding to the fact that the “opposites” within this piece play nice with each other but are a bit more opposed than dovetailed. The extended tenor sax solo in double time acts as a way of spanning the broken rhythms of the piece, whereas Matt Mitchell’s piano solo—delicate and thoughtful, using single-note lines—provides greater contrast, forcing the bass and drums to calm down for a while at least, with only sporadic double-time outbursts. Coming as it does almost immediately after Nachoff’s tenor solo, it puts us in another musical world.

Mind’s Ear I begins with an asymmetric piano intro, following which we hear what sounds like early-1980s modern jazz in a lyrical vein. The interesting thing about this track is that it seems to meander a lot more than the preceding ones, but this is an aural illusion created in part by the more relaxed beat and ambiguous tempo. Indeed, towards the middle of the piece, the tempo relaxes to the point of stasis, the drums reduced to occasional taps and cymbal dings as pianist Mitchell plays an out-of-tempo solo, almost meandering with a great deal of space in the music. At 6:50 we get an honest-to-goodness Ornette Coleman lick before Nahoff takes off on an uptempo tenor excursion, finally relaxing the beat at 8:32 before the piano’s quirky rideout to a dead stop in the middle of nowhere.

Mind’s Ear II is more rock-influenced, thus I will draw the curtain on it. Rock beats and I simply do not get along and never will, but if you like them you’ll enjoy this.

Quinsin Nachoff 2Astral Echo Poem is much more my cup of tea, a strange little work very close in feel to some of Mingus’ late works but using one of those quirky march-lke beats that Carla Bley loves so much. This was good enough to get the album back on track (pun intended), and here Nachoff’s tenor solo is warmer and more ingratiating than anywhere else on the album. I really liked his playing here, and Mitchell’s playing on electric piano, though again at double time, also has a laid-back feel about it. A few more Coleman-isms are tossed into this musical stew as the two saxes play together. We wrap up things with Tilted, a really wonderful piece whose opening—busy and complex using double-time repeated runs—put me in mind a little bit of Monk’s Four in One. The difference is that Nachoff uses this strange double-time lick as a backdrop to the “main melody” (obscure thought it may be) rather than as the melody itself, and occasionally drops the lick in behind his and others’ solos. A brief but complex canon evolves around the 3:20 mark before the tempo stops and Wilson returns on Fender Rhodes. There is, alas, a touch of rock beat here as well, but fortunately it’s not quite as dominant and doesn’t last nearly as long.

I was really impressed by Flux as a whole (track 4 aside) and highly recommend it as an example of new ways to combine the classical and jazz idioms.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book: From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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