Nick Fraser Quartet

Starer
No label No #

By Ken Waxman

Usually powering – literally – jazz or improvised ensembles from behind his kit, Toronto drummer Nick Fraser brings his compositional talents upfront on this CD. Like a gracious host who ensures each of his guests is properly included in party discourse, the drummer minimizes his role to commentary via irregular clunks and pops, opening up the pieces to be interpreted by locals, cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton, plus New York saxophonist Tony Malaby.

No one-time border-jumper, Malaby, who has recorded and toured with the others before, brings an appropriate trigger-quick adroitness to the compositions, often switching between abstract compressed tones from his soprano saxophone to more rounded tenor sax elaboration. On the title track for instance, Dowling’s high-pitched bucolic theme statement is doubled by nearly identical nasal soprano lines which presage a clean melodious completion. There’s a comparable admixing on “Sketch #29”, except it consists of measured undulation from the double bass which are decorated with higher-pitched cello detailing. Spread across these united string swells like jam on toast are self-assured tenor saxophone vibrations, with the musical snack prevented from turning too sweet by the drummer’s hard cymbal smacks.

Still the demonstration of Fraser’s maturing writing skills is “Sketch #20/22”. Initially a chamber-styled exposition from shallow-pitched soprano, enlivened with tympani reverb and clatters, an extended silence joins the first understated sequence to the subsequent fleet sketch. As the drummer projects the irregular beat alluded to earlier, the other contribute a contrapuntal overlay encompassing Malaby’s crying split tones, guitar-like picking from Dowling and Clutton’s grounded pulsations. By the time reed honks and smears right themselves the piece has travelled from one fascinating extreme to another.

If Fraser thinks of Starer as the equivalent of a sketch pad, he’s proven here that if he wishes, he certainly deserves the opportunity to work on a larger canvas adding more musical colors.

-A MusicWorks Exclusive Spotlight Review August 2016