Path of Totality (Whirlwind Recordings)
Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux
Released November 23, 2018
Juno Award Nominee Jazz Album of the Year: Group 2019
DownBeat Four-and-a-half-Stars Review
Quinsin Nachoff‘s Flux communicates an extraordinarily colorful palette of conceptual reasoning and musical expression in the effulgent new release, Path of Totality. Working with saxophonist David Binney, pianist/keyboardist Matt Mitchell, drummers Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood, plus a clutch of guest artists, saxophonist/composer Nachoff’s overarching inspiration arose from the moon’s total eclipse of the sun in 2017. That event became a dramatic, natural metaphor for the band’s evolutionary creative process, plus a reminder (especially amidst current political and environmental discord) of light’s assured emanation from and triumph over transitory darkness.
The Toronto-born, New York-based saxophonist devises this project’s music as metamorphic narratives, hence the breadth of these six mainly larger-scale works. “I’ve been focusing, back and forth, on the jazz and classical worlds, especially over the last five years”, he explains. “I was featured in the première of my saxophone concerto at the 2017 Vancouver International Jazz Festival, so my thinking has taken on a larger scope, which allows more time for compositional development and the weaving-in of improvisational aspects.”
Nachoff’s acoustic-based compositions each begin from a clear-cut kernel of an idea, with their own set of parameters, which are then developed into stories of differing landscapes, all crafted from the ground up for these specific players to interpret and improvise across. Underlying this cerebral artistry is his fascination with mathematical and scientific disciplines, as well as the formative experiences of a family upbringing which exposed him, first hand, to an array of 20th century electronic, avant-garde and minimalist music. Experimentalism is further bolstered by distinctive sonorities from the vast, living archive of keyboards and synthesizers at Canada’s National Music Centre (Nachoff was amongst its first artists in residence) and Kenny Wollesen’s ‘Wollesonics’, the drummer’s assemblage of unconventional, self-invented percussion instruments.
A progressive yet cyclical impetus in giant-stepping title track ‘Path of Totality’ is explored through thunderous, phased double-drum patterns and far-reaching saxophone figures; and ‘Bounce’ takes motivic ideas and rhythmic structures from a bouncing ball’s motion (studied through mathematical programmes), manipulating them to create elasticized environments, the two saxophonists’ extemporizations eventually narrowing against the full swell of a 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ.
Otherworldly ‘Toy Piano Meditation’, influenced by John Cage’s ‘Toy Piano Suite’ of 1948, transforms five-note melodies over time; and its slow, Gamelan-hued growth reflects Cage’s interest in Eastern philosophy and obsession with mushrooms. Here, Nachoff describes David Binney’s transcendental coda/cadenza as “one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard.” Kenny Wollesen’s totalitarian-suggestive ‘march machine’ threads through ‘March Macabre’, an ominous, big-band-scored political commentary of unrest and disarray, its regimented angst finally broken by the freedom of Orlando Hernández’s intricate tap dance.
Harpsichord and Novachord pointillism, coupled with gurgling modular synth and mesmerizing drumming, underpin Nachoff’s and Binney’s dazzling saxophone extemporizations in ferocious ‘Splatter’; and portraying intersecting planetary pathways, the double drums and saxes of ‘Orbital Resonances’ vociferously rotate around Matt Mitchell’s central piano focus towards a tumultuous crescendo. As you immerse yourself in its narrative, on whatever level you connect with its story, Path of Totality‘s artistic journey continues to intrigue, fascinate and enthrall.
1. Path of Totality (Quinsin Nachoff) 06:32
2. Bounce (Quinsin Nachoff) 19:15
3. Toy Piano Meditation (Quinsin Nachoff) 19:25
1. March Macabre (Quinsin Nachoff) 13:59
2. Spalatter (Quinsin Nachoff) 13:23
3. Orbital Resonances (Quinsin Nachoff) 08:06
Quinsin Nachoff: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
David Binney: alto saxophone, C melody saxophone
Matt Mitchell: piano, Prophet 6, modular synthesizer, Novachord, harpsichord, Estey pump harmonium
Kenny Wollesen (1,3,4,6): drums, Wollesonic percussion
Nate Wood (1,2,5,6): drums
Jason Barnsley: 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ (2)
Mark Duggan: marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales, Tibetan singing bowls (3)
Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (4)
Dan Urness, Matt Holman: trumpet (4)
Ryan Keberle: trombone (4)
Alan Ferber: trombone, bass trombone (4)
Orlando Hernández: tap dance (4)
David Travers-Smith: Buchla 200E analog modular system, EMS Synthi 100 analog/digital hybrid synthesizer, Arp Chroma (Rhodes) analog synthesizer, clavioline, Oberheim SEM, modular Moog (5)
Recorded November 11, 12 & 13, 2016, at The National Music Centre, Calgary, Canada by David Travers-Smith, assisted by Jason Tawkin;
December 19, 2016 and September 8 & 9, 2017, at Systems Two Recording Studios, Brooklyn, New York, by Mike Marciano, assisted by Andrew Cavaciuti;
September 9, 2017, at Figure 8 Recording Studios, Brooklyn, New York by David Travers-Smith, assisted by Nate Mendelsohn
Produced by David Travers-Smith and Quinsin Nachoff
Executive Producer: Michael Janisch
Edited, Mixed and Mastered by David Travers-Smith
Artwork, Design and Layout: Kate Gentile
Back in the days of the Third Stream, work mostly seemed concerned with finding space for improvisation within the limits of the classical form, an approach that often made the music feel needlessly stuffy. Quinsin Nachoff, by contrast, uses structures borrowed from the classical realm to make his music more open and expressive.
It helps that the saxophonist’s compositional signposts are found not in the 19th century classical tradition, but in the strategies of 20th century aleatoric and electronic music. “Toy Piano Meditation” evokes John Cage’s Suite For Toy Piano both in its title and the way it repeats and transforms a five-note phrase. But Nachoff’s crew also nods to Lou Harrison’s orchestral version of Cage’s piece, particularly in the gamelan-inflected percussion of Mark Duggan. “Bounce,” meanwhile, uses structures derived from a mathematical description of a bouncing ball (physicist Stephen Morris did the calculations).
These are substantial compositions—both “Bounce” and “Toy Piano Meditation” last more than 19 minutes—but there’s no sense of sprawl. Credit some of that to the hyper-kinetic drumming of Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood, whose play (and interplay, on the two tracks where both are present) never is less than invigorating. It’s also worth noting that by not using a bass player, Nachoff keeps the tonal centers loosely defined, enabling more improvisational latitude. In all, Path Of Totality is a stunning, deep dive of an album, the sort of music in which one could spend hours submersed.
J.D. Considine (DownBeat)