Davidson & Fortin Invest in a “Clock Radio”

clock radio cover web

CLOCK RADIO / DAVIDSON: tür. berlin V. berlin I. zwei werden eins. berlin IV. berlin VII. H moll (zeitweisse). out of love. spiegeln. berlin VI. delicate. into a fog. a lift above. doorway / Michael Davidson, vib; Dan Fortin, bs / Elastic Recordings ER 001

Dan Fortin, the bassist of the Canadian jazz group Myriad3, and vibist Michael Davidson have combined forces here—although, in an album of such quiet, almost sub-toned dimensions, “forces” scarcely seems the right word—for a program of very intimate, almost subliminal music-making.

Scheduled for release on March 22, Clock Radio is a collection of 14 pieces that can be enjoyed separately or as a continuous suite. The musical themes recur throughout, creating (purposely) a feeling of déjà vu. The pieces are meant to be “nostalgic,” but nostalgic scarcely describes what is going on here. In fact, I personally wouldn’t call it nostalgic since it evoked no such feelings in me. It’s more like a trip down Alice’s rabbit-hole but without the little signs saying “Drink Me” or “Eat Me” to help you along,

The subtle swing created by the duo reminded me of some of the things Red Norvo did in the 1930s and ‘40s (Lester Young is often credited as being the father of cool jazz, but one should also include Norvo in the same breath), except that the harmonies are even more modern and both themes and tempi continually change, sometimes interlocking and sometimes juxtaposing against each other. All 14 pieces are credited to Davidson as composer, thus one would assume that much of this music is written out, but more often than not the listener may be forgiven for confusing the improvised sections with the through-composed. When the participating musicians are on this high of a level, it’s difficult to draw the line between these two facets, although the longer solos are most certainly improvised.

What impressed me was the fact that neither Davidson nor Fortin are “flashy” players, at least not on this session (a rare exception is one of Davidson’s solos on berlin I), but rather sublimate their playing in the service of the music. As I was streaming these tracks on my computer for review, without carefully watching the screen, I found it difficult to tell where one piece ended and another began much of the time. I have to think that the titles of these pieces were pretty much arbitrary choices since they just seem to be whimsical and not particularly descriptive in any way.

Any attempt at a technical description of each piece herein would be difficult since it is so amorphous in form. I would, however, point out that it is mostly tonal or at least modal; harmonically, at least, it does not push many barriers, but the odd form of each piece and the occasional odd effects (such as the distant-sounding reverb at the end of zwei werden eins) bring the listener into the creative process in a way. The piece titled berlin IV is the most regular in jazz pulse and maintains a fairly steady tempo throughout, yet still fits into the evolving suite. berlin VII starts out with something I generally detest, electronic sounds, but thankfully they’re just used as an introduction and interlude for this happy, uptempo but bitonal swinger. Towards the end one hears the crackle of what could be an old LP record (probably a bit of “nostalgia” though I have no such feelings for LPs myself).  out of love also opens with electronic sounds, but mellower, long-held notes to create a warm ambience over which Davidson plays, eventually joined by Fortin. In berlin VI, Fortin sustains long bowed (arco) notes while Davidson seems to be creating alternating slow and fast upper lines throughout.

And that’s about as much of a description as I can give you without spoiling the listening experience. You just have to hear Clock Radio for yourself, enjoy it and absorb it. It’s a simply wonderful album from start to finish.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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