Guitarist and composer Travis Reuter's debut, Rotational Templates, exists at the margins of avant garde jazz and contemporary composition, weaving searing improvisations around strains of complexity in the ostinati and ensemble sections that provide the scaffolding for the pieces.
|01||Vacancy at 29|
Vacancy at 29
|02||Residency at 20 (part 1)|
Residency at 20 (part 1)
|05||Residency at 20 (part 2)|
Residency at 20 (part 2)
The shared affinity between experimental jazz and avant garde classical music is not new. Improvisers such as Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and Steve Coleman have drawn inspiration from the classical avant-garde for decades, contextualizing ideas developed in notated music within improvised forms. Composers such as Christian Wolff, Bruno Maderna, and John Cage have been among the scores of figures who have explored ways to use notation to facilitate various flavors of improvisation. But something is amiss in experimental corners of jazz and new music that strikes me as the next step of integration of these two trajectories that had previously only run parallel to one another. Travis Reuter’s Rotational Templates is part of this new movement, and is a bracing harbinger of where this direction might take us.
The rhythmic language of these compositions is lifted out of the world of new complexity in contemporary music; in fact, Reuter has studied composition with composition heavyweight Jason Eckardt. In Eckardt’s music, complex nested tuplets and shifting meters create a rhythmic ecosystem of sorts, as the composer deftly increases the density of events and drives the music towards a climax. But on Rotational Templates, the same rhythmic language is lifted from its patient, teleological context and allowed loose from the outset. In effect, it is the restless energy of the rhythms themselves that give this music its propulsion but also underscore its uneasiness and anxiety. My ears also recognize harmonic structures that have found their home in new complexity music, but here in Reuter’s compositions, those harmonies are lived in and inhabited as opposed to being worked out and deconstructed. It is almost as if the translation of material from a purely notated context to a context that includes improvisation hinges on a crucial distinction of how the musicians and audience relate to the material. In the notated context, we see the material being acted upon, turned upside down, inside out, rotated, and manipulated; the composer’s role is of the all-powerful puppet master. On Rotational Templates, where there is a mix between notated and improvised elements, we are living inside the harmonies and the rhythms, and they are acting upon us. During the improvised sections the material is being acted upon, but not by a controlling puppet-master, but more akin to the relationship a bull fighter has to an unpredictable animal, tangling with the unruly harmonies and rhythms in real time. I think one of the reasons I find this recording so fascinating is that we hear the aesthetic differences between a new classical piece and an experimental jazz piece even more clearly precisely because the variable of material has been neutralized – we are now listening to what it sounds like when you take musical material associated with one style and place it in another aesthetic forum.
The parameter of form, however, is the arena in which Reuter and his like-minded contemporaries start to point to a new genre altogether. Undoubtedly the sub-genre of jazz that has up until now seen the most intricate formal experimentation is the big band genre. Because of the tradition of players performing from fully notated parts, big band composers could integrate improvisations into larger scale forms that went beyond the theme and variations form that most of small group jazz was essentially based on (the theme being the “head” and the variations being the subsequent choruses over the form of the head played by the various soloists). In these compositions, Travis Reuter subverts this expectation in small group playing with new notated material in the middle of songs, manipulation of the thematic material when it returns in later sections, and an overall formal approach the betrays more of the role of puppet-master than most jazz compositions are accustomed to. In essence, in this music, we have both—the fiery spontaneity of the improviser is being used to take us from premeditated point A to premeditated point B, in service of an overall formal, and compositional goal.
At its core, this still sounds like a jazz record; the energy of the music, the aesthetic of the performances, and the underlying intentionality of the art-making are all in the jazz tradition. And yet, it is music that would be very much at home on many increasingly eclectic new music festivals around the world. With the growing community of sophisticated improvisers who are drawing inspiration from contemporary concert music, we can likely anticipate a time not far off when these genre distinctions between avant garde classical and jazz mean less and less.
- Dan Lippel, April 2012
Guitarist, Travis Reuter's compositions focus on abstract forms, complex rhythmic structures, timbre and polytonality, while continuing to explore the improviser's role in a traditional setting. His music is inspired by contemporary classical music and draws heavily on influences from the music of composers Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, and Jason Eckardt. Each composition experiments with combinations of form, counterpoint, and new devices for improvisation. Underlying this approach is an implicit skepticism of the aesthetics of the mainstream jazz establishment and a deep hunger to integrate elements from other forward-looking genres. Reuter's integration of the motivic and rhythmic language of the classical modernists sets him apart from other young guitarists from the modern jazz lineage, and such material drawn from outside of the jazz tradition acts as the glue that holds this music together conceptually. www.travisreuter.comhttp://www.travisreuter.com
On Rotational Templates (New Focus), his 2011 debut recording, New York guitarist Travis Reuter takes after saxophonist Steve Lehman: his music is likewise thorny and rigorous, full of elaborate harmonies, twisty structures, and tricky rhythms, and like Lehman he borrows from contemporary classical composers (in Reuter's case they include "new complexity" proponent Brian Ferneyhough). Bassist Chris Tordini and Little Women drummer Jason Nazary render the album's funky, shape-shifting grooves with pinpoint precision, while tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner slaloms surefootedly through their knotty rhythms and electric pianist Bobby Avey drops in splashes of surprising color. Reuter, whose processed sound recalls John Abercrombie's, alternates between oblique harmonic movement—on the opener, "Vacancy at 29," he contributes ghostly long tones that hover over the kinetic action beneath him—and fluid, zigzagging lines as deft as Viner's. The compositions are heady and difficult, with dizzying unison passages and shattered-glass counterpoint, and their ever-changing contexts provide a surplus of raw material for improvisation. For his local debut Reuter brings an entirely different band—tenor saxophonist Mike Bjella, bassist Karl McComas Reichl, and drummer Danny Sher (who has worked frequently with Reuter). Not only am I curious about how this music will sound live, I have to wonder how these players will tackle such challenging pieces with only a couple weeks to prepare.
- Peter Margasak
Rotational Templates is a record that could disrupt the order of things in 2011. Travis Reuter, a classically trained guitarist but you wouldn't be able to tell by this dazzling and inventive array of tracks that his group have assembled.Travis Reuter delivers a some great compositional structure and improvisation mixed with the sheer joy of exploring different sound worlds throughout this debut. In Rotational Templates you can hear echoes of fusion and experimentalist greats like Miles, John McLaughlin and Derek Bailey.
On the opener, "Vacancy At 29", Reuter allows the group (especially Chris Tordini's funky basslines) to really set the stage as he manipulates the sound around the outside. Reuter has a band that has played together for awhile and appears know each other's next move. Bobby Avey adds the '70s ethereal element with some superb work on the Fender Rhodes. Reuter rises up in decibel and displays some very complex harmonic structures that are rich, dense and mesmerizing. Residency At 20 (Parts 1 and 2)" show two distinct sides of Reuter's compositional thinking. Part 1 focuses more on deep exchanges between Avey and Reuter. They have a real connection of investigation rhythmic patterns and sound that gives "Residency At 20" a Bitches Brew feel to it (e.g. "John McLaughlin"). Part 2 is more of a group effort with Viner really coming to the forefront. There's a lot of improvising happening but it remains in a well placed groove that is impressive and fast paced. "Flux Derivatives" starts in a multi-layered pattern and slowly moves into more midtempo structure all the while seeing Viner and Avey laying down some intricate almost psychedelic beats. Rotational Templates is a remarkable and rewarding debut from a talent young guitarist and composer thinking well outside the box. Like Mary Halvorson, Travis Reuter is definitely an artist you should be looking out for in 2011. Travis Reuter delivers soundscapes, experimentation and a vision that is equally challenging as it is exciting to experience. This is definitely part of our top albums of the year for sure. Highly Recommended!
JazzWrap caught up with Travis Reuter recently to ask a few questions.
While your background is both jazz and classical, there seem to be elements of minimalism and experimental rock simmering just underneath. Is this something you wanted to add to the recording?
I can’t really think of any minimalist or experimental rock musicians that I am directly influenced by. I do love effects pedals and sound manipulation, though, and I enjoy experimenting and finding new ways to incorporate noise and signal processing into my playing and writing.
Were there artists or albums that inspired you on the more experimental/improvisational side?
Evan Parker’s Six of One, The Derek Bailey/Evan Parker duo album Arch Duo, Tyshawn Sorey, Tim Berne and his groups, Anthony Braxton and Andrew Cyrille’s albums Duo Palindromes vol. 1 and vol. 2, Little Women’s album Throat.
We are big fans of Bobby Avey's work. Have you worked with him for a long time? What effect did he and the rest of the band add to Rotational Templates?
I have played with Bobby since 2008; we have played a lot together, and he has played with my band since 2009, when it was in its earliest formation. I played a gig with his group last year that was challenging and very musically rewarding. He also uses Chris Tordini and Jeremy Viner in his group from time to time, so there is some group chemistry on the album. I really respect his playing and writing, and I can trust him with any musical decisions he makes while playing my music. He has his own harmonic and rhythmic approach, and really adds a lot to any playing situation he is in.
The compositional and improvisational structure of the album seems to be a group effort. How would you describe the writing process?
With each piece I try to experiment with a new concept that focuses on form and rhythm. I feel that this is most obvious in Singular Arrays (track 3). In Singular Arrays, the first half of the piece, up until the drum solo, is an exploration of the balance and relationship between post-tonal theory and tonality over a form that is in a perpetual state of transformation. In the opening section of the piece, the written material switches back and forth from tone rows to tonal centers, while containing an immense amount of rhythmic counterpoint. After the drum solo, I wanted the piece to have a solo section, for the piano, that contained notated material for the bass and tenor sax, so that they would be aiding in both the development of the composition and the improvised solo, and from this, there is an established continuity between the written material and the improvisation. The piece ends with a re-capitulation of the drum solo section for a guitar solo. By reworking an already introduced form this way, I am seeking to give the compositional arc of the piece an evolutionary character.
Have you been listening to or reading anything that is pushing your creativity forward?
The Peter Evans quartet cd Live in Lisbon, and the Evan Parker cd Scenes in the House of Music. Last week I saw Fieldwork play at the Jazz Gallery, and the week before I saw the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) play the music of Mario Davidovsky at Miller Theater. I am trying to check out as much live music as possible right now. In addition, I am always revisiting old cds that to me are constant sources of inspiration. These include: Steve Lehman’s Demian as Posthuman and On Meaning, Vijay Iyer’s Blood Sutra, Ben Monder’s Excavation, and many others."
After its commodification and some excess smooth jazz hybridization in the eighties and nineties, jazz fusion became a somewhat maligned genre. But if you’re fusing jazz signatures and rock instrumentation with the “right stuff,” its flexible profile can be a vehicle for heady music-making and imaginative improvisations. Guitarist Travis Reuter is not only a fine jazz-rock exponent and bandleader; as a composer, he references contemporary classical music, naming modernists such as Elliott Carter as well as the New Complexity composers as interests. On his debut album as leader, Rotational Templates, titles such as “Singular Arrays” and “Flux Derivatives,” as well as the intricately constructed pieces to which they are appended, demonstrate this connection.
Of course, Reuter isn’t the only musician exploring this particular amalgam. Tyshawn Sorey and Matthew Shipp have long been interested in similar integrations of avant-classical into jazz. But Reuter adds a layer of fusion to the mix, giving us an ample dose of structured yet nimble riffing, reminiscent in places of Alan Holdsworth, that suits the ornate constructions of his hybrid compositions.
His collaborators make strong contributions as well. Avey’s linear solos dovetail with Reuter’s melodies in a savory duet on “Singular Arrays.” Meanwhile, Viner and Reuter join to play a unison head on “Flux Derivatives,” but then diverge for their own solo turns. Viner’s is filled with ecstatic, free jazz inflected, angularities and the occasional stratospheric wail. He’s also exemplary on “Residency at 20 (Part 2)” adding exultant altissimo passages and post-blues flourishes to its avant jazz template. Tordini and Nazary create fulsome grooves that propel the action but are never obtrusive. Joined by Avey, they create piquant post-tonal changes and flexible phrases that undergird the soloists with fascinating harmonic contours.
All of this is accomplished without losing a sense of jazz’s swinging vitality: quite a feat for a debut!
Christian Carey- May 21, 2011
Visionary, composer and guitarist Travis Reuter has sculpted an impressive canvas of inimitable, expressive and complex tones co-exist in the body of improvised music on his latest offering “Rotational Templates.”
As I listen to the heartfelt yet multifaceted entities exposed throughout I had to take a closer look at what this involves and look beyond the scope of his technical ability to grasp the idea that this music was not merely comprise for technique purposes alone but most importantly the music comes from his heart!
From my perspective, “Rotational Templates” contains five infallible nuggets that are harmonically challenging. Moreover, this repertoire of songs is brilliantly executed by this multi-talented ensemble via their inventiveness and meticulous dialogue enabled them to transmit these odd-measured and impressionistic shapes and form them in a way the average listener can encompass this abstract soundscape.
Reuter’s affinity to record music of this caliber transcends the norm, his experimental voice will indeed challenge each listener. With that said, while listening I labored to engage myself in the rigorous artifacts that reside in “Vacancy at 29 and Residency at 20 (part1). Meanwhile, wooed by their prowess I’m amazed by these musicians as they take these songs into the hemisphere where the elements (bare with me) of Hendrix crashes into the uncompromising voicing’s of Monk to eventually flow with inexhaustible energy.
The only downside of this brilliant excursion by Travis Reuter and company, he serves up less then forty-minutes of playing time. On the other hand, this is certainly not and issue I was thrilled with two of my favorite pieces on the project titled “Flux Derivatives” along with the closing track “Residency at 20 (2)” both are composites generally found in the intricate textures of jazz as it meets the sonics of fusion to reflect the descriptive tones of improvised music. The genius and incomparable artistry of Travis Reuter should be given serious consideration because his gift, talent and virtuous contribution to improvised jazz is indeed admirable.
O disco de estreia como líder do guitarrista nova-iorquino Travis Reuter, lançado pela New Focus Recording, apresenta-nos uma proposta coesa e rica ancorada numa experiência dum jazz inteligente e aberto ao contacto com várias formas musicais criativas, quer nos timbres usados, particularmente pela guitarra de Reuter, quer pela natureza formal e estrutural das composições. Marcadas por blocos rítmicos de alguma complexidade e frases algo angulares, de alguma forma característicos de parte da actualidade do jazz, interpretados com energia e sempre dentro dos limites do conforto de audição dum ouvinte habitual de jazz moderno, o trabalho do quinteto liderado por Travis Reuter, revela intérpretes de grande qualidade, energia e criatividade e grande rigor interpretativo em temas em que a complexidade das camadas de riffs pode por vezes passar despercebida, mas contribui para uma experiência de audição muito estimulante. Revela também um conjunto de músicos coeso, onde assistimos facilmente a transferências entre estruturas mais tradicionais (secção rítmica + solistas), com zonas de aproximação clara (e timbricamente assinalável) entre Reuter e Viner ou Reuter e Bobby Avey, mas também, a momento de partilha (ou integração) do saxofone de Viner na secção rítmica, em claro acerto com Chris Tordini, muito sólido, afirmando espaço para uma maior liberdade tímbrica e rítmica de Nazary, muito presente, mas sempre integrado. Sendo um disco curto, com 5 temas e pouco menos de 40 minutos, Rotational Templates, tem também a vantagem de nos deixar a querer ouvir mais, sem exaurir o campo de possibilidades que o quinteto apresenta e sem estender desnecessariamente situações de solos ou reapresentações de temas. Esta preocupação com a "eficácia", consciente ou não, confere ao disco e a cada um dos temas escritos por Reuter uma forte coesão e alimenta a atenção do ouvinte, ao longo de toda a estrutura, o que é uma proeza nada desprezível nos tempos que correm. Dito isto, não existe uma grande variedade de "registos" neste disco e, nesse sentido, não há também grandes surpresas, mas o equilíbrio conseguido entre referências jazzísticas mais tradicionais e um discurso mais anguloso— "erudito", dirão alguns—, temperado com arranjos que envolvem o quinteto, criando contextos ricos para cada um dos músicos explorar, com grande qualidade, discursos solísticos consequentes, mas sem nunca se perder o sentido duma música de conjunto, é notável e a audição do disco é muito estimulante.
New York based guitar player Travis Reuter's debut album as a group leader, published by New Focus Recording, presents us a coherent and rich project, rooted on the experience of an intelligent jazz, reaching to several creative music genres, both in the musical timbre used, especially in Reuter's guitar, and in the formal and structural nature of the compositions. With rhythmic patterns of some complexity and some angular phrasing, somewhat linked to nowadays contemporary jazz, performed with energy and always within the comfort zone of regular modern jazz listeners, the work presented by Reuter's lead quintet introduces us great performers, both in quality, energy, creativity and skill, in themes where the complexity of riff layers may elude the listener, but gives us a very rich listening experience. It also shows us a coherent set of musicians, where there are easy transitions between more conventional structures (rhythm section + soloists) with areas of close collaboration between Reuter and Viner, and Reuter and Bobby Avey, but also moments of sharing (or integration) of Viner's saxophone in the rhythm section, clearly synced with a very solid Chris Tordini, opening spaces for a greater timbre and rhythmic freedom by Nazary, very present, but always integrated.
Being a short album, with 5 themes and a little less than 40 minutes, Rotational Templates, also has the advantage of letting us wanting to hear more, without exhausting the field of possibilities that the quintet presents and without lingering unnecessarily on solos or theme's repetitions. This concern about "efficiency", be it conscious or not, gives the whole album and each and every one of the themes written by Reuter a strong coherence and feeds the listener's attention, throughout the whole structure, which is a rare accomplishment this day and age.
All that said, there's not a whole lot of variations on "style" on the album and, in that sense, there are also no big surprises, but the balance between more traditional jazz references and a more angular speech— more "academic" for some—, seasoned with arrangements that surround the whole quintet creating rich contexts where each of the musicians explore, with great skill, relevant solo interventions, without ever loosing the notion of an ensemble music, is remarkable and the album's listening experience is very rewarding.
Rated 4 out of 5 João Martins on jazz.pt #36 (May/June 2011)
Influences by contemporary classical composers within progressive-jazz frameworks do not always yield fruitful results, but New York City-based guitarist Travis Reuter goes against the grain on the exhilarating Rotational Templates. An impressionable young composer and guitarist, Reuter divulges a conspicuous approach to hybrid genres as if it were meant to be.
The band was up for the occasion and generates sympathetic support amid a democratic mindset. These pieces convey a pulsating set of odd-metered rhythmic structures, abetted by linear modalities and underscored with the element of surprise. Moreover, Reuter is a first-rate soloist and often rockets to the stratosphere with animated and scorching lines.
The quartet pursues atmospheric treatments atop staggered, but significantly coherent cadences via knotty unison choruses and unorthodox phrasings. On “Vacancy,” tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner's flickering notes contrast Fender Rhodes performer Bobby Avey's capacious patterns. Reuter ups the ante with speedy, distortion-laced licks as the band segues into reverse-engineering mode, streaming with tons of impact.
Reuter's compositions feature elongated theme-building exercises atop dissecting undercurrents. During these sequences, drummer Jason Nazary rattles, shuffles, and provokes his band mates. Reuter and Avey are also colorists, injecting razor-sharp voicings and tension-building movements in choice spots. Countered by unanticipated stops and starts, the music also spawns a fractured sense of buoyancy.
Rotational Templates looms as a noteworthy entry into the modern era jazz chronicles. Reuter's musical world is a place of intrigue that not only stimulates the psyche, but also delivers a high form of entertainment along the way--a sterling effort that should not go unnoticed.
-Glenn Astarita June 1, 2011
Guitarist/composer Travis Reuter is based in New York City where he has studied with Ben Monder, Jane Ira Bloom, Adam Rogers, and Steve Lehman. He also spent time studying composition on principal with Jason Eckardt and electronic music with Douglas Geers as well as classical guitar with Dennis Azabagic and Frederic Hand. His debut CD, "Rotational Templates" (New Focus Recordings), is hard-edged music, pieces filled with rhythmic complexities, fiery solos and creative interpley. Reuter, joined by Bobby Avey (Rhodes), Jeremy Viner (tenor sax), Chris Tordini (bass) and Jason Nazary (drums), composed works that show the influence of Miles Davis "Bitches Brew"-era ("Residency at 20, Part 1" especially) yet leavens his sound with the more contemporary (and angular) influences of Steve Coleman and the afore-mentioned Steve Lehman. His solos combine sonic textures and variations in dynamics to keep listener off-guard. Avey, whose 2010 solo debut "A New Face" is quite impressive (read more here), is a hardy foil for the guitarist, often acting as the counterpoint on the theme or playing the melody in unison. His solos are fiery, raucous, clusters of sounds and chords that push against the active drumming of Nazary - the tension created by the rough-and-tumble percussion and Viner's staccato tenor on "Singular Arrays" is palpable. Tordini is the "rock" on these tracks, holding the bottom together while Nazary and Avey spar with the guitar and saxophone or create their own worlds within the music.
Travis Reuter has created a debut that is both confrontational and spell-binding, music that pulls in the listener and takes him or her on quite a ride. And, this is music that should be played loud so that the sound hits you in the chest while it enters your brain.
Hmmm…does Rotational Templates – the title of jazz guitarist Travis Reuter’s new album – mean “basic plan for solos around the horn?” No. It’s not clear what it means, but this pretty meticulously thought-out album is a great ipod listen, and as cerebral as it is, there’s feeling along with all the ideas. It’s hard to pigeonhole, a good sign: you could call it psychedelic improvisational postbop. Reuter is a thoughtful player with a tremendous command of unexpectedly non-guitarish textures. What becomes obvious only a few minutes into this album is that he really knows how to seize the moment, but also when to let the moment go because it’s over. He’s got a good band: Jeremy Viner on tenor sax, Chris Tordini on bass, Bobby Avey taking a turn on electric piano this time out and Jason Nazary on drums.
The first track sets the stage: Viner and Tordini carry the central theme as Nazary roves and prowls, Reuter providing nebulous atmospherics via a swooshy effect. He parallels the sax and then finally comes up acidally, bouncing off the rest of the band as Avey takes a turn in the shadow position. The second cut is the first of a diptych. Residency at 20, Part 1 introduces an off-center, circular theme that Viner pokes at suspiciously, Tordini signaling an absolutely delicious, otherworldly, icily ambient guitar interlude (is that a backward masking pedal?) that eventually begins to smolder and then throw off sparks as Reuter edges his way out of the morass.
The most mathematical number here is Singular Arrays, a blippy ensemble piece featuring some sly roundabout work from Nazary and a judiciously sinuous solo from Avey imbued with his signature gravitas that gives the song some welcome muscle. When Reuter starts bobbing and weaving, the spiky thicket of notes makes it impossible to tell the guitar from the piano. Its cousin track, Flux Derivatives uses the skeletal outline of a ballad to frame resolute solos from Viner and Avey, Reuter taking his time before spiraling up and bringing up the heat. The album closes with the second part of Residency at 20, Avey left to hold this together as the drums shuffle off on their own, Reuter adding a couple of amusing quotes, with Avey rocking the boat to the point where Reuter turns it loose with an unexpected, unrestrained joy. Good ideas, good playing, five guys at the top of their game.
-Lucid Culture 5/17/2011
On his debut album, 'Rotational Templates,' released by New Focus Recordings, guitarist Travis Reuter explicitly sets out to use techniques from modern classical music in his compositions for jazz quintet. The accompanying blurb states that he 'draws heavily on influences from the music of composers Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, and Jason Eckardt.' So: a brave and hazardous endeavour: this is an approach that has been tried many times, grafting classical to jazz and the history of the music, from Paul Whiteman onwards, contains, perhaps, many more failures than successes. Attempts to utilise formal devices and instrumentations from the straight music world all too often resulted in an uncool stiffness that impeded the rhythmic/melodic flows of the jazz to produce an often bloodless hybrid that was very much less than the sum of its parts. Whisper the name: 'Thirdstream.' So how does Reuter's album fare, against this backdrop?
Very well, actually. There is a skittery, jump-cutting intensity to the music that partakes of contemporary classical but the overall rhythmic field is expansive enough to enfold and make it flow. A small group helps, giving plenty of space and - perhaps younger musicians are not fazed by moving between genres these days? Reuter – classically trained but with an evidently superb jazz guitar technique would seem to prove that point. This is thoughtful, intelligent music, not afraid to foreground its techniques and influences, yet with enough grit and groove to lift it way beyond what could have been a stodgy mess. The distortions of electric guitar and Fender Rhodes give a rocky, funky edge, coupled with a sparing use of added electronics and a mix that moves instruments and sounds around more than would be usually found on a straightahead jazz record. If Thirdstream as was is Scylla, then Charybdis in this context would surely be: fusion/prog rock. Fusion being an attempt to make jazz more rocky and prog – well, trying to make rock more respectable and 'complicated.' That yearning for 'respectability' is what poisoned the musical oceans in times gone by. Much of the success of this album resides in the avoidance of past mistakes - the keyboard/guitar interactions hark back to Miles Davis at his electric best rather than the blandness that followed his pioneering after 'Bitches Brew.'. Reuter and his crew negotiate safe passage through this particular Strait of Messina...
First track: 'Vacancy at 29,' bass leading in to be joined by flurries from Jeremy Viner's tenor saxophone and electronic colourations back in the mix. The sax builds as slow processional Fender Rhodes chording (Bobby Avey) combines with noise granularities. Jittery music, held together by the sturdy bass of Chris Tordini as the sax stretches out into more declamatory mode. Guitar takes over to solo in a tumble of notes, building up a head of steam, veering into a distorted rocky sound world as the keyboard chases. Then: a sudden end. And all the tracks finish in the same abrupt way, as if emphasising that there will be be no rambling, that concision is all at this session. The endings, then, emblematic of the whole, where composed material is balanced by improvisation under tight rein.
'Residency at 20 (Part One) starts with slow chording guitar in almost traditional jazz timbre then sax joins to spell out the melody, accents doubled and hammered into place by Jason Nazari's drums – which are slightly back in the mix, perhaps they would have benefited from a more up front posture? But one assumes that the placement is deliberate. Much thought has gone into the production, after all – as witnessed by the next section when the guitar goes into ghostly quasi-dubstep mode drifting out of the immediate sound space into an echoing background before returning up front to spin out some fast lines alternated with crunching chords. Another ensemble passage then more distorted guitar as the drums slowly edge forward. Again, a sudden stop.
'Singular Arrays.' A hint of sprightly Dolphyesque angularity in the melody. Guitar briefly solos before joining the sax for unison statements. Keyboard and bass repeat a phrase as the drums come through. Keyboard solos, coming off a wobbling figure, cranked up distortion, intersected by sax reiterating that phrase again. Keyboard in freer style over sparse bass and fidgeting drums that drive it along briefly. Guitar next up, some longer linear development that really start to go just before the again abrupt end.
One uses comparisons again – 'Flux Derivatives' opens on unison guitar and sax that distantly evokes Pat Metheny and Ornette's collaboration for these ears. Again, an interesting use of space - sax, guitar and spare, clipped drums, the keyboard does not arrive straight away then floats wafty chords, bass coming in last. The next section: warm sax laced with cymbals and various rhythmic shifts, Viner slowly burning to a climax propelled by cutting drums – followed by elegaic Fender Rhodes that suddenly jumps a couple of emotional notches. Guitar bubbles in, whiplash lines balanced by splayed chords. Reuter stepping out here. Viner returns very briefly, riding a note – then – you guessed it, sudden stop.
The last track: 'Residency at 20 (Part Two).' Opened by tenor over another stop/start bass riff, the top line proceeds to flow over busy drums, adding keyboards along the way – then a brief ensemble section as the bass riff continues. Third section: free-floating keyboards and some biting guitar as the drums bustle and push, keyboard taking it up alone. Sax and guitar back in unison, all dropping for the bass to essay a few solo bars then all together in a swirling finale. Then: that sudden stop.
'Jazz' just having gone through the gates of the twenty first century and approaching, perhaps, its centennial has covered so much ground during those preceding years. To riff off the Good Book: there are many mansions in the house, but no overall 'Father' in residence/ownership to guide/dominate in this age of suspicion/hostility towards metanarratives. The dynamic between improvisation and composition provokes many different solutions, as it always has, but the possibilities have multiplied drastically. But some things carry through. The key to all jazz, arguably, is rhythm, primarily the drums and their role in giving shape and space – and improvisational opportunity. (Jimmy Giuffre's early free jazz attempts got round this by dropping the drummer, which proves the point, perhaps). The avant garde evolved in the sixties once drummers worked out various strategies to expand their rhythms, offering more dimensions and expanded pulses that opened new doors. With such a wider field of rhythm available, perhaps it is easier now to produce music such as this, which has intellect and energy in balanced doses. Also: much of contemporary art music is not so far away from areas that have developed in the free improvisational worlds - often in practice their sound worlds mesh. Reuter's stated influences here - Fernyhough and Carter, Erckhardt - have all in their own ways rejected or moved on from the earlier ideology of strict twelve tone serialism which was usually a straitjacket when applied to jazz - and beyond, arguably. Their rhythmic/harmonic complexity is maybe not such a distance to travel now (think Cecil Taylor) - Fernyhough's extensive use of the tuplet would be a bridge maybe to the overlaid rhythms and syncopations that jazz has always bounced off. Well, OK, maybe I am stretching here? But: what is exciting on this album is that those areas of previous contention/misalignment, the formal compositional devices – tone rows, counterpoint, intricately notated shifting rhythms etc – are encompassed by this wider sense of expanded rhythm so that the charts are not stodgy, nor the improvisations impeded – everything sounds right and in place. And sounds fresh. 'Rotational Templates' is that rarity, a novel conception that works. The discipline of five relatively short tracks also gives a feeling that less is more. Nothing meanders, all pulled up suddenly in what seems a trademark ending which seems to say: that's it, enough has been said at this point. Reuter obviously has much confidence in his overall vision and did not feel it necessary to over-egg the pudding on his first outing. The no-doubt hand-picked ensemble helps - the ideas of individuals are there but they are bound into the greater whole of the band. My one beef? I would have liked a little more stretching out, perhaps, but that's a minor quibble. I suspect that live shows would have more room for soloing expansion – and this is a band I would love to see... A very surefooted debut from Reuter then. We await the next chapter...
Words and Music April 18, 2011