Crows and Motives
Underwolf 007

Closer in comparison to a haiku of Japanese brush painting or an epic poem, the Crows and Motives session revels in its microtonality while demonstrating how committed improvisers can create perceptions of depth, volume and form within these limited parameters. Unhurried and sometimes laggardly, the three New York-based players, singly or in tandem (s) vibrate the trimbres to highlight outstanding contrasts while moving the 10 miniatures appropriately and chromatically forward.

Soprano and tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan, who is the midst of doctoral studies in composition at Princeton University, has long experience with the sonic subsection having curated and performed for the Boston Microtonal Society and won an award for his work in the field. Generalists, electric bassist Giacomo Merega has worked with the likes of saxophonist Michael Attias and guitarist David Tronzo, while trumpeter Joe Moffett has performed with percussionists Carlo Costa and saxophonist Jack Wright among others.

With all of the selections, which are additionally influenced by 16th century polyphony, clocking in at between fewer two minutes to nearly five, ideas have to be articulated, embellished and concluded swiftly. The standard formula appears to centre on Kaplan and Moffett – sometimes in tandem – interpreting the themes either with foreshortened staccato or mellow wide timbres, while Merega percussively strums or picks behind them. At points the trumpeter uncovers some bravado brassy invention, but the slurred ambience of measured and obtuse tonality is more common. This approach can lead to some notable results as on “Moretet”, as horn solos become louder in tiny increments, with each building on the dissonance created by the preceding player. Merega’s bass string skill can replicate intimations of electronic oscillation as he does on “Buzz” and even suggest drum rolls as on the concluding “Discontinuity with Finale”. That piece slides the theme along via double bass string strums as the horns put away the tendency heard elsewhere to whine, squeal or stutter, and instead happily create waves of harmonic intensity.

“Episodes”, the longest track should convince listeners as to the legitimacy of the trio’s approach. Glacially paced, the pauses among the brief shattering or staccato solos are so protracted that the piece appears to be finished several times before it actually does. An exercise in near time-suspension, the track adds a final surprise, when a mellow reed trill and a trumpet pig squeal each vie for supremacy before harmonizing.

Just as many people prefer the loud and grandiose to the hushed and tiny, Crows and Motives isn’t for everyone. But those who fasten on the hushed interaction and subtle expression of translucent tones will be amply rewarded.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Lacrimosa 2. Discreet Density 3. Slow Burn 4. Screambirds 5. Moretet 6. Buzz 7. Slow Mettle 8. Episodes 9. Balladeer 10. Discontinuity with Finale

Personnel: Joe Moffett (trumpet); Noah Kaplan (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Giacomo Merega (electric bass)