By Robert Ham | Published December 2019
Hailey Niswanger’s project MAE.SUN feels of a piece with many modern jazz ensembles, folding r&b, EDM, psychedelia and the avant-garde into wafting, airy post-bop. The compositions represent a logical step sideways for an artist who has spent years backing up everyone from pop star Demi Lovato to Ethiopian highlife groups. Niswanger brings all that experience—and a bit of the smoothed-out tone of her own albums like Confeddie—to bear on this second MAE.SUN collection. But for all her efforts to look the part of a colorful, spiritual seeker, the music on Vol. 2: Into The Flow feels safe and tenuous. Niswanger and her band certainly do their best to evoke the essence of an Arkestra or an Art Ensemble. Songs like “Awaken” and “Free” delight in flickering synth, samples and sending the saxophone or flute through an array of effects. But their adherence to commercial concerns takes precedence, as they work to make the messages of “Bond” and “Ascension,” both anchored by aphoristic lyrics of self-assurance and freedom, easily digestible. The effort is appreciated; the execution feels like a pulled punch. What’s never in doubt is the ensemble’s musical prowess. MAE.SUN clearly has the skills; it just needs compositions that will meet and challenge those abilities.
Vol. 2: Into The Flow: Awaken; Change; Bond; Cycle; Ritual; Ascension; Acceptance; Free. (36:38)
Personnel: Hailey Niswanger, soprano saxophone, flute, vocals; Nikara Warren, vibraphone; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Axel Laugart, Jake Sherman, keyboards; Aaron Liao, bass; David Frazier, drums; Amber Navran (3), Kate K-S (6), vocals.