Posts Tagged ‘Kristin Young’
This eight-song collection, released in September 2010, represents the debut offering from composer/keyboardist Dan Berg and his contemporary jazz outfit, simply called The Gestalt.
One is struck almost immediately by how Berg and company distinguish themselves from the musical pack, irrespective of genre. In album opener “Waiting for the Next Hit,” we first hear a triangle ostinato followed by an utterly ethereal and operatic vocalise from classically trained singer Kristin Young. But the song also clearly demonstrates the Gestalt’s ability to dig into a groove and stay there, bolstered by Matt Wigton’s delectable bass hook, as adventurous clarinet and saxophone solos demonstrate the obvious jazz/funk prowess of Adrian Mira and Jessica Lurie, respectively.
“Why is a Crooked Letter,” track no. 2—which my dear late high school choral teacher Mr. G once explained to me was a crucial position, with the second song of an album functioning as the “hit” of the bunch—brings the listener more squarely into jazz territory. The electric bass is noticeably less apparent than on “Waiting for the Next Hit,” but Berg’s steady rhythmic leadership and intuitive chordal sensibilities take the fore with satisfying results. It’s not too difficult to get lost in the piano’s sustain, the swell of chord after chord buoyed by the tight drumming of Pat Agresta.
For me the beauty of jazz is in the all-consuming details of the rhythms, the intricacies of the melodies and their accompanying harmonization, and the pleasure I derive from embracing them. Jazz affords me the opportunity to indulge in these things more than any other genre I think, and I tend to manifest my enjoyment physically—complete with emphatic head movements and varied facial gesticulations. Perhaps both appropriately and ironically, the song “Relish Your Fears” found me relishing the musical nuances, particularly those found in the electrifying sax solo from Lurie.
The fourth tune, entitled “Timshel (Thou Mayest),” sees the return of Young to the mix, accompanied by gorgeous piano balladry from Berg. The work is somewhat of a stylistic anomaly—sounding as if it can’t decide whether it’s an art song suitable for recital or a slow-burning crooner best heard in a dimly lit club. At first listen, this seems like a problem. But maybe Berg shouldn’t have to decide one way or the other; and fortunately, he doesn’t split the stylistic difference in ways that feel contrived or patronizing. Young possesses an endearing yet clarion soprano, bright and shimmering, capable of either no vibrato at all or an alluring, light flutter of tone. What sounds very much at home in the art song camp eventually gives way to a playful tango featuring another vocalise, which in turn evolves into an absolutely stunning soft jam, with the voice functioning as solo instrument. Young’s voice here seems nearly incomparable in beauty and imbued with seductiveness somehow extraterrestrial. The fluidity with which Berg accomplishes the harmony of these seemingly disparate styles makes this song a clear highlight of the album.
“Hook it Up” perfectly demonstrates Dan Berg’s ability as a composer to create seamless, smartly crafted melodies that embed themselves indelibly into the sumptuous chord progressions, and likewise do the same in the mind of the listener. This gem is further enhanced by quick tweaks in time signatures, going from 4/4 to 5/4 and back again. The rhythmic tandem of Wigton and Agresta is really “in the pocket” here, and their blend of precision and style tie this work together convincingly. Simply put, “Hook it Up” is perhaps the best track on the recording.
“Vibrant Phases” once again features the vocal work of Young, this time with the melody spending considerable time in her lower and middle ranges. Unfortunately, her voice sounds somewhat pedestrian here, and it is only when the melody returns to the sweet spot of Ms. Young’s tessitura, between F6 and C6, that we again experience the full gift of her vocal talent. Also, it has to be mentioned that Berg’s melody here, particularly in the higher vocal register, is truly remarkable—I recommend really sinking your ears into this one.
Anyone interested in new music—jazz or otherwise, and contemporary American music composition particular—should give this album genuine repeated listens. Berg and the Gestalt prove that they are not beholden to any one genre, or the stylistic tendencies that that genre may push the musician to embrace. Instead, Berg’s fully notated compositions follow only the intrinsic truth and logic of the music itself, and his band faithfully interprets his songs with more than enough competence and a decent dose of brilliance. As a Manifesto, this record definitely works. It also works simply as great music.