Oct. 13: Quinsin Nachoff unites cordless jazz trio and string quartet in Stars and Constellations
Visionary saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff unites chordless jazz trio and string quartet in adventurous,
stunning new directions
Stars and Constellations, due out October 13, 2023 via Adyhâropa Records, features bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss with the Bergamot and Rhythm Method String Quartets
"There's something strikingly inventive and vivid about Nachoff's music… composed by a mind that continues to stretch beyond the comfort zone of any genre."
– Friedrich Kunzmann, All About Jazz
"Nachoff's writing [is] shaped by an engagingly complex musical mind, a sensibility that guarantees the progress of each movement will contain a series of delights and surprises. It's demanding contemporary music that succeeds at the trick of pulling you in."
– Michael Ullman, The Arts Fuse
In 2006, saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff released his debut album, Magic Numbers, announcing the arrival of a unique new voice innovating at the juncture of jazz and classical music. He has continued to explore and expand those boundaries in the nearly two decades since, though his investigations have taken on a variety of different forms. With his latest release, Stars and Constellations, Nachoff returns for the first time to the jazz trio-meets-string quartet format of that initial foray. The results feel less like the closing of a circle than like a map of the astronomical distance the composer has traveled in the meantime.
Due out October 13, 2023 via Adyhâropa Records, Stars and Constellations features Nachoff on tenor alongside bassist Mark Helias (reprising his role from Magic Numbers) and drummer Dan Weiss, also his collaborators in the venturesome Ethereal Trio, which released its self-titled debut in 2018. They're joined throughout the album by the Bergamot Quartet, with the addition on "Pendulum" of The Rhythm Method. Both are New York City-based string quartets adept at navigating both complex compositional material and improvisation.
Where Magic Numbers was very much an exercise in folding a chamber quartet into jazz forms, with concise tunes and strings serving as support for jazz-based improvisers, Stars and Constellations reflects the far more integrated and forward-reaching approach that Nachoff has evolved in projects like the malleable Flux ensemble and 2020's adventurous Pivotal Arc. The new album features three sprawling and intricate compositions where any division between jazz and classical players dissolves, fluidly melding into an enveloping journey that leaves idiom far behind.
The reach of Nachoff's imagination is captured in the title of this striking new album: Stars and Constellations casts its gaze heavenward, drawing inspiration from the mythology that mankind has invented to make sense of the unfathomable cosmos. "I'm fascinated by the idea of myth, " he explains. "It holds a significant place in the human experience. We are innately drawn to narratives that in turn shape the evolution of our societies."
While the astrological implications of the stars are of less interest to Nachoff, he used his own sign – a December baby, he's a Sagittarius on the cusp of Capricorn – as a launching point. The album is bookended by "Sagittarius" and "Scorpio, " often depicted as opposing forces (the archer battling the scorpion). The two incompatible extremes are bridged by the suite's third piece, "Pendulum."
A lifelong interest in science has led Nachoff to explore unique approaches to composition. He is involved in a long-term collaboration with physicist Dr. Stephen Morris of the University of Toronto, whose experiments into emergent patterns in nature have provided unexpected pathways for Nachoff to traverse. "Winding Tessellations, " premiered at the 2017 Vancouver International Jazz Festival, translated Morris' work on cracks formed in mud into musical terms, while a new multimedia piece planned for an October premiere at Hunter College in New York delves deeper into Morris' work with a chamber orchestra, soloists and a quartet of filmmakers.
Nachoff enlisted Morris' aid in mapping the constellations for Stars and Constellations as 3D models, which then shaped the ensuing compositions in ways that aren't obvious to the listener but lead the music in compellingly unconventional directions. "Pendulum" received a more direct translation, embarking with broad gestures and gradually slowing to a narrow, near-static state by the end of its fourteen minutes. The two string quartets engage in a sometimes elongated, sometimes frenetic dialogue that sweeps from one extreme to another.
"Scorpio, " commissioned and premiered by the Penderecki String Quartet in 2016, starts with pointillist strings, stark and erratic, which only gradually connect via longer lines – a sonic portrait of isolated stars forming into the connected images of constellations. Weiss joins in with delicate percussive colors, Nachoff eventually weaving in with a serpentine tenor solo. The interplay between solo and collective voices continues with a spotlight for viola in a call and response with the full ensemble and later an isolated section for Helias' eloquent bass.
"Sagittarius" begins with the sound of arrows in flight, arcing glissando lines landing with sudden, echoing thwacks. Lines snake and tumble around one another, Nachoff's tenor, Weiss' chattering cymbals and the Bergamot's shimmering strings dancing spiral formations. The piece remains in constant, ever-changing motion from there, surging rhythms giving way to harsh, agitated drones, a percolating drum solo emerging from stentorian intonations.
"I've been wanting to revisit this instrumentation for some time, " Nachoff says, "I'm not typically nostalgic, but I thought it would be interesting to reflect on where I was 20 years ago and see how this format could function with larger structures and longer forms." Sparked as it may have been by his past triumphs, Stars and Constellations does anything but look back. It's another bold leap into the unknown in a career that has been defined by such daring ventures from its outset.
New York-based saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff gained early recognition as an award-winning tenor saxophonist, establishing a name as a formidable player "parsing shimmers of Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner" (DownBeat). He has since carved out a unique career connecting the worlds of jazz and classical music. A consistently impressive output of albums, projects and commissions demonstrate his ability to explore both with equal conviction, whether through his saxophone concerto Winding Tessellations with contemporary chamber group Turning Point Ensemble, his 2018 commission for the Molinari String Quartet, or his remarkable group Flux, which features the stellar talents of David Binney, Matt Mitchell, Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood. Their JUNO-nominated second release, Path of Totality (Whirlwind Recordings), thrives in the spaces between genres, styles and inspirations, and garnered spots on numerous year-end best-of lists including DownBeat's The Year's Top Rated Albums (4.5 stars), which said "Path of Totality is a stunning, deep dive of an album, the sort of music in which one could spend hours submersed." Nachoff's 2020 release Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind Recordings) brought together virtuoso violin soloist Nathalie Bonin with a jazz-inflected unit featuring two established giants of the NY scene, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, and a wind and string ensemble. Nachoff's most ambitious project yet: a multimedia work collaborating with physicist Dr Stephen Morris, whose area of research is Emergent Patterns in Nature, along with filmmakers Udo Prinsen, Gita Blak, Lee Hutzulak, and Tina de Groot. For this project Nachoff composed a score for a modern chamber orchestra with unique improvisers that bridges the jazz and classi
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