The Sustain Of Memory (Endectomorph Music)
Released November 8, 2019
DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review
The novelist Penelope Fitzgerald wrote that “the ambition of children everywhere is to have their games taken seriously.” One might object that this ambition is shared by adults, but the truth is that most of us lose it as we age: seeing time and again the indifference of others to our whims and passions, our games lose the aura of necessity and wonder they held for us in our youth.
Instead, we join those games offered to us by society: the pursuit of money, the establishment of reputation, the maintenance of sexual desirability. These aren’t happy games, in part because we’re seldom sure what is compelling us to play them, so further diversions—intoxicants, the charisma of celebrity and of commodities—help us forget our unease.
Some keep playing their games despite various distractions and exigencies, not only getting others to take them seriously but showing us that these games are serious and worthy of our care and adoration. This does not preclude exploration and irreverence but in fact demands them: the game needs to be refined, expanded, and occasionally rewritten lest it get played out. As the title of the final piece on this album suggests, what one loves must be dealt with rigorously. It should remain a source of discovery, succor, and joy.
The music included here reveals a composer and improviser searching for, and going quite a way toward finding, new rules by which he can apply his many skills: here, cadences, despite their angularity or rhythmic novelty, have the integrity and well-worn edges of more familiar structures; passages seem to move against themselves like countervailing currents in an eddy; rollicking swing rests securely on a base of crystalline delicacy.
Such inventions provide the grounds for many moments of unexpected transcendence, as thrilling as they are engaging—the chant-like melody in the second section of The Middle of Tensions, the iridescent visions that emerge from Circle, Line’s feats of spiritual austerity, the haunting end to the mirthful and swaggering second half of The Rigors of Love.
As its textures shift and melodies unwind, The Sustain of Memory delights the ear, sharpens the mind, and emboldens the heart. Its aims are serious, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Andrew Katzenstein (July 2019, New York)
1. The Middle of Tensions: I (Kevin Sun) 03:30
2. The Middle of Tensions: II (Kevin Sun) 05:17
3. The Middle of Tensions: III (Kevin Sun) 05:23
4. The Middle of Tensions: IV (Kevin Sun) 11:25
5. The Middle of Tensions: V (Kevin Sun) 06:34
6. The Middle of Tensions: VI (Kevin Sun) 04:13
7. Circle, Line: I (Kevin Sun) 02:27
8. Circle, Line: II (Kevin Sun) 02:02
9. Circle, Line: III (Kevin Sun) 03:42
10. Circle, Line: IV (Kevin Sun) 01:43
11. Circle, Line: V (Kevin Sun) 01:55
12. Circle, Line: VI (Kevin Sun) 02:11
13. Circle, Line: VII (Kevin Sun) 03:12
14. Circle, Line: VIII (Kevin Sun) 01:44
15. Circle, Line: IX (Kevin Sun) 02:53
16. Circle, Line: X (Kevin Sun) 02:42
17. Circle, Line: XI (Kevin Sun) 02:04
18. Circle, Line: XII (Kevin Sun) 02:41
1. The Rigors of Love: I (Kevin Sun) 09:34
2. The Rigors of Love: II (Kevin Sun) 12:56
3. The Rigors of Love: III (Kevin Sun) 25:50
Kevin Sun: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Adam O’Farrill: trumpet (“Rigors”)
Dana Saul: piano (“Tensions,” “Rigors”)
Walter Stinson: bass (“Tensions,” “Circle, Line”)
Simón Willson: bass (“Rigors”)
Matt Honor: drums (“Tensions,” “Circle, Line”)
Dayeon Seok: drums (“Rigors”)
“The Rigors of Love” recorded by Aaron Nevezie at The Bunker Studio, Brooklyn, NY on February 17, 2019
“Circle, Line” recorded by Chris Benham at Big Orange Sheep, Brooklyn, NY on May 17-18, 2019
“The Middle of Tensions” recorded by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY on May 22, 2019
Mixed by Juanma Trujillo
Mastered by Eivind Opsvik
Produced by Kevin Sun, Walter Stinson, Christian Li, and Juanma Trujillo
Photography by Daphne Xu
Design by Dana Khagabanova
Memory renders pain as data. Later, maybe as a part of therapy, we attempt to conjure sentiment using emotional language. But at the time, we experience those events as pure feeling. The architecture of Kevin Sun’s second album, The Sustain Of Memory, matters. (And in light of its accomplishment, using the word “architecture” here feels proportionate.) Three pieces sprawl over a two-disc set, each piece featuring a different combination of players, from trio to quintet, and distinct compositional qualities. The first piece, “The Middle Of Tensions,” consists of a quartet playing across six parts, its labyrinthine structure evoking a definite sense of narrative, thanks in part to Sun’s novel emotional vocabulary. His jagged and sometimes skittish playing prizes unfettered harmonic exploration. “Circle, Line,” the second piece, is for trio. Its longest section is just about three minutes, as each of the composition’s episodes retreat into a series of concepts and sketches that unfurl with stubborn linearity. Emotionally and melodically sparse, Walter Stinson’s bass adds depth and momentum to Memory’s most challenging stretch. It teeters on the cusp of tedium without ever fully succumbing. But after the flatness of “Circle, Line,” the album closes with “The Rigors Of Love,” an intense, harmonically virtuosic and compositionally complex piece. Sun delivers one of the album’s fiercest solos here. Love, and its attendant miseries, aren’t discrete. Modern life wants to separate the two, pleasure and pain. But our physiology refuses. The temporary unity of the two was actually love’s finest accomplishment. It’s this album’s, too.
Andrew Jones (DownBeat)