Let me say right
off that I enjoy Trophy very much. But it isn't for the usual reasons.
Maybe it is, I guess I don't know what your usual reasons are. It isn't
because it pumps or pushes, or seethes with drama. It is a jazz record,
you could say, and the group instrumentation is one you might find in
a jazz-type ensemble. It is also a chamber group, and a wind ensemble,
and a nonet, and a trio, and a quartet, and a solo. Its shortcomings are
its strengthsthere isn't any free-blowing insanity, and it says
in a whisper what is frequently treated to muezzin-like pronouncements.
It is dark, it is slow-moving, it is a buzz, a hum. Perhaps this is the
fulcrum of its effectiveness . . .
Brian Glick is a tenor saxophonist/composer living in NY; although comparatively
young, he has worked in an instrumental capacity with such living jazz
and post-jazz legends as Sunny Murray, Sonny Simmons, and Anthony Braxton.
Trophy, his first recorded document, chronicles the development of a partly
notated, partly improvised work for nine pieces. What is perhaps most
surprising about this release, though, is (and especially given his age)
what is absent. It is not really, as one might be led to think from the
names mentioned above, what one would call free-jazz. Nor are there are
hackneyed melodies, or strict, closed harmonies herethe music is
understated, and appeals immediately to a sense of . . . well, a kind
of visceral calm. The works excitement is a smooth, seething onewhere
some may hear meditative static, this sentiment is underwoven
by a sense of the foreboding. With rising unison lines ascending from
solo particles of blotted statements from the reeds, Glick constructs
a kind of post-bellum fort from the ruins of such America avant-garde
classical icons as Morton Feldman and Charles Ives.
These crosspurposes lead to an odd morphing, the picture of a child somewhere
between Gil Evans and Kryztof Penderecki whose entire life is lived in
phase vocode. But in the end, Glick's strength is his lyricism. The ability
to conjure a mood is not, by definition, a mark of talent; here it seems
a by-product, for instance. The melodies from Chris Matthays warm,
open trumpet, to Seth Misterkas lumbering baritone saxophone, float
through the 40-odd minute work like vectors pointing towards infinity.
They are there, one might like to think, to remind the listener that composition
in a free-jazz orchestra is possible without reverting to historically-specific
moments; and maybe isn't so much a reproof to Cecil Taylor-inspired ensembles
all over, as it is a nod from across the tracks. Maybe, to paraphrase
James Brown, they are two trains, both on the right track but going in
. . . um, different directions.
Harmonies crop up throughout the work, whether incidental or intended
it is impossible to tell. One must assume, right or wrong, that they are
intentional, on a certain level a response to Glick's orchestrations or
conductings. Horns collide, narrowly avoid each other, vibraphone chimes
racinate themselves into the space of the music. As they crunch their
way through the work, these harmonies quickly create their own pathsan
extended, quietly shifting pedal point against the subdued action of bass
clarinet, or the cut of oboe. More than fluff or merely groundwork, they
cushion the movement in a foamy thickness, foglike.
The listener also gains a clearer picture of the ensemble, who play so
well it is hard to imagine (as the liner notes indicate) that they have
met only once. The talent in developing this work over the course of the
work is indeed formidable, and certainly credence must be given to musicians
who are able to uncover such music as well. From the humming tat-tat-tatat
of Sean Meehans percussive arsenal to Matthew Heyners pulsing
bass, at times buried beneath loads of notes, other times floating just
above them; Chris Jonas tenor saxophone, sometimes in duel with
Brian Glicks tenor, other times staking his own ground; and, particularly
notable, the interplay between oboist Rafael Cohen and veteran vibraphonist
Kevin Norton,weaving their own clusters and melodies throughout. The players
are all, of course, composers themselves, many familiar with larger-band
conglomerations from work in free-jazz or community orchestras, and their
playing is ultimately reflective of this intuition of experience. The
enclosed notes congratulate them on their skills, and it is clear, at
least in the composers estimation, that the work would not be the
same without them.
So, Brian Glick ends up eschewing what frequently appears as the "high
drama" of saxophone expressionism by first conflating it, and then
dashing it to bits. The interplay of opposing forces throughout keeps
Trophy afloat, from the pianissimo lines in bass clarinet, appearing only
when the tense interplay between vibes and reeds have climaxed, to the
subtle, pointillistic percussion running like a dotted line through the
popping harmonies. The musicianship, both in composition and performance,
is commendable: these young men manage to generate a great deal of friction,
in the nicest way possible, in a very short period of time. I see it as
a portend for the future: the shape, if you will, of talent to come.