Caroline Davis & Rob Clearfield’s PERSONA

Anthems
(Sunnyside)

Saxophonist Caroline Davis and pianist Rob Clearfield’s quartet, PERSONA, takes its name from a 1966 Ingmar Bergman film. In the existentialist thriller, two characters muddle the boundaries that separate their individual psyches, and as the story progresses, their hold on reality begins to dissolve in the blur of beautiful black-and-white images. Davis and Clearfield use a similar dissolving technique on Anthems, as they move between classical and jazz idioms, sentimentality and rigor, structure and freedom.

The dialectics they’re exploring are most pronounced on the two renditions of the title track, one acoustic and one electric. On the first, the composition’s staccato, disjointed melody supports the dominance of the rhythmic figure. On the reprisal, played at a slower pace, however, the tune’s bright harmonies and nuanced bass line move more clearly into focus, this time defying the song’s assertive pulse. Together, these two renditions provide a cipher for understanding the album: Each musical impulse eventually will yield to a contrasting concept. The album’s auteurs manage to squeeze all of this musical information into a small space—the acoustic title track clocks in at less than one-and-a-half minutes.

At times, though, as on “A Soothing, Melancholy Breeze,” the co-leaders fall into a closely synchronized pattern where it’s hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following. These are some of the finest moments on the album, when the two artists meet in a blur, somewhere in between their respective polarities.