Andrew Rathbun, Sculptures

Andrew Rathbun, Sculptures

by Virginia Schaefer

copyright © 2003 Virginia Schaefer

Originally published in Jazz Improv, Vol. 4, No. 3 (6/03)

Andrew Rathbun
SCULPTURES - Fresh Sound New Talent 135

Released 2002. Recorded September 2001, New York City.
Sculpture 1; Nameless; Your Eyes Changed Us; Architect; Duo I; Sculpture 2; Doves & Hawks; Talking in My Sleep; Facing West; She Screams in Whispers; Z; Duo II; Kid Song; Sculpture 3; Holiday of Fools; Fitzgerald; Duo III; At the Tip of the Island; The Farmonics Game; Duo IV; Sculpture 4.

PERSONNEL: Andrew Rathbun, tenor and soprano saxophones; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet and flugelhorn; Frank Carlberg, piano; John Hebert, bass; Jeff Hirshfield, drums. (With Taylor Haskins, trumpet, on the first track.)

In the Sculptures insert, Andrew Rathbun compares himself to a sculptor, "shaping and molding things until they are just so." Using his own compositions, carefully arranged and ordered, Rathbun and the rest of his quintet have molded diverse musical styles into a recording that creates a strong impression of a unified whole.

Rathbun plays tenor sax adroitly, producing a medium-hard sound, and his soprano sax playing is well-controlled and subtly enhanced electronically. He is joined by the eminent Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn, as well as a capable rhythm section that includes Frank Carlberg, a pianist deserving recognition (and with whom I've studied composition).

Predominant are very short (under two minutes), mostly free-form pieces with distinctive textures, using various combinations of instruments and some overdubbing on a few tracks. The four Sculpture pieces frame and define the disc. Sculpture 1 starts with a trumpet/tenor sax trio (the sax is overdubbed and Taylor Haskins plays the extra trumpet) punching out a repeated motif in cluster chords, joined by Wheeler's trumpet solo soaring overhead. In Sculpture 2, the quintet plays improvised melodies polyphonically, ending with all joined in a distinct, forceful theme. Sculpture 3 is a horn quartet (apparent overdubbing of tenor and trumpet) that plays a melody consisting of a two-note rhythmic motif.

Sculpture 4 is relatively longer and has a repeating melody that sounds strongly influenced by Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, with a shifting meter and modal cadences. Carlberg's piano solo slithers chromatically, with left and right hands seemingly in different meters. Then he recaps the cadence of the head a few times, sounding almost late-baroque. Rathbun plays a funky-sounding tenor solo. Toward the end, Carlberg plays triads in a striking whole-tone scale.

The four Duo pieces form a second, interwoven series. In Duo I, Carlberg plays a melodic motif on a non-diatonic scale, while Jeff Hirshfield produces mysterious sandpapery sounds on drums. In Duo II, Rathbun plays low-range, North-African-sounding melody accompanied by a muffled throbbing of the bass drum. Rathbun's solo ends in a free-form frenzy. Duo III is a sparse and dirgelike duet of low-range flugelhorn and piano. Duo IV uses the same players in a totally different mood, skittery and whimsical.

In the expressionistic Talking in My Sleep, Rathbun plays freely on soprano sax. The rhythm section plays freely, too, and the piano strings are damped extraneously (maybe by fingers). Your Eyes Changed Us sets a contemplative and slightly fearful mood with the tenor, trumpet, and bass. In She Screams In Whispers, the rhythmic groove is paramount. In the polyphonic and at times heterophonous Holidays of Fools, Rathbun plays soprano sax with the three rhythm players, reminding me of the '60s collaborations of Jimmy Giuffre/Paul Bley/Steve Swallow. At the Tip of the Island is a trio of tenor, trumpet, and drums, with horns playing mostly long tones. It melds into The Farmonics Game, which starts with the same three players playing long, low tones, and evolves into some overlapping melodies with sax overdubbed. Then, John Hebert's bass enters with intriguing glissandi.

Several longer pieces (in the five- to eight-minute range) are more mainstream, with repeating forms and horns-against-rhythm section arrangements. Nameless has a medium-tempo, hard-bop style, with some groove shifts and interesting piano/bass figures in multiple octaves. Architect is lyrical and pastoral, with a lot of harmonizing in sixths. Rathbun's tenor sax solo is full of skillful and expressive arpeggiation. Wheeler's trumpet solo has a Spanish flavor in its figures and rhythms. Doves & Hawks is also lilting and pastoral, built on a repeating figure in the piano over which the horns play together, often in sixths. Except for occasional contrary motion between tenor and trumpet, there's no sign of the tension one might expect from the title. Facing West is in 3/4 time but is otherwise similar to Architect, with a pastoral melody played in gentle harmony. Fitzgerald has a mellow, Brazilian-flavored hard-bop feel, in marked 6/8 (or 6/4) time.

Z is one of two works (the other is Sculpture 4) that combine a repeating melody with the inventiveness of the free-form pieces. After Carlberg's impressionistic, bitonal-sounding piano introduction, muted trumpet and gauzy tenor sax together reveal a loosely-defined melody of sustained tones. After Hebert's rhythmically interesting bass solo, Wheeler plays a solo on open trumpet that raises the level of tension. Rejoined by Rathbun, the piece closes in a crescendo of volume and feeling.

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