By Michael J. West | Published October 2020
To some extent, saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff’s Pivotal Arc is music for the egg-headiest segment of the jazz audience, a Third Stream recording that crosses classical and jazz context and forms. It’s a complex knot of traditions. But what most listeners want to know is whether the record is enjoyable to listen to. The answer: sometimes.
Two of the three lengthy movements in the opening “Violin Concerto” are stirring in their harmony, less so in their acerbic melodies and dry, academic rhythms; any hope of soulfulness seems concentrated in the violin soloist, Nathalie Bonin. The third movement finally catches up to Bonin, evincing raw energy, rhythmic suspense and a gorgeous improvisation by bassist Mark Helias. The closing, 15-minute “Pivotal Arc” provides the album’s most overtly and daringly rhythmic moments, with drummer-percussionist Satoshi Takeishi at their core. It takes some slogging through heavy passagework to get to those moments, but once reached, they’re glorious. So, too, is the at-long-last appearance of Nachoff on tenor saxophone, chewing the musical scenery to bits as the composition progresses from hearty melody to expressive skronk and back again. It almost makes one forget the often-tedious journey that preceded it.
Pivotal Arc: Violin Concerto, Movements I-III; String Quartet, Movements I-III; IV; Pivotal Arc. (77:31)
Personnel: Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone; Michael Davidson, vibraphone; Mark Helias, bass; Satoshi Takeishi, drums, percussion; Jean-Pierre Zanella, piccolo, flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Yvan Belleau, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Brent Besner, bass clarinet; Jocelyn Couture, Bill Mahar, trumpet; David Grott, trombone; Bob Ellis, bass trombone; Molinari String Quartet.