An adventure in sound manipulation. Expect the unexpected. Stunning.
Brent Black / @CriticalJazz
FFEAR or Forum For Electro-Acoustic Research released Mirage to wide spread critical acclaim in 2012 and apparently I am a little late to the party. Whether you are a critic or a casual listener it is always good to branch out from what you know and what you like, it is the only way one can grow. Chamber jazz like most arbitrary genre labels is more of an umbrella term that loosely tags those ensembles seeking to find that musical happy place somewhere between jazz and classical music. While perhaps the latest if not hottest addition to the modern jazz family tree, this approach to music has been deeply entrenched in the improvisational scene in Europe for a quarter of a century but we won't go there.
FFEAR is an incredibly adventurous improvisational 4tet which is led by tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen and trombonist Chris Washburn. While we have established that conventional chamber jazz is the more traditional marriage of classical compositional technique with jazz improvisation it is the use of unconventional meter and artfully manipulated microtonality that places FFEAR at the very top of the more open ended spectrum of this rarefied idiom. So what are microtones? For the uninitiated let us take a brief theory lesson, microtones are the odd spaces between the evenly spaced intervals that make up what most of us consider the more conventionally understood scale as learned and performed in western music. It is the skillful use of these slightly off centered sonic manipulations that create a dynamic tension that takes the mind down a lyrical path of what may be expected and in turns moves into a realm of the unexpected. This harmonic road less traveled is an incredibly unique presentation in that it sidesteps the critical attempt at placing the tag of "experimental" on this particular work as it maintains a melodic integrity and precise groove that never seems to force the unsuspecting listener off the edge of that melodic cliff. An amazing influence drawn from the visual arts wraps this conceptual brilliance up into a wonderful package of dynamic tension and rich texture.
"Mirage" is the title piece composed by Mathisen and explores complex meter without ever feeling the need to pitch a tent to make a pretentious point. Microtonal harmonies and rhythmic layering move this work into a musical vision that develops organically while coming full circle with the use of ten tones instead of the more common twelve. Your ears are moving in one direction while your mind is creating a counterpoint of listening that is incredibly distinct yet never overtly challenging. Exploratory would be an easy and inherently unfair tag in this context, implying this 4tet is merely taking a shot in the dark without rhyme or reason. Conversely this is music that is precisely executed and meticulously composed while never losing the spontaneity of the improvisational genius that all four members bring as a harmonious synergy of time and of space.
Chris Washburne's "U-Bend" draw inspiration from an article found in the publication, The Economist. A U shaped curve depicting human happiness as it rises and falls throughout the advancing age in life is a mirror image of the shifting dynamics found in this wonderful blend of simplicity and complexity occurring simultaneously.
Mirage while a theoretical masterclass in both performance and composition asks very little in return other than for one to listen. Be the ball...
Tracks: Mirage; Frederick Sommer Suite; Standing Waves; U-Bend; Hyperion Conduit
Personnel: Ole Mathisen: Saxophones; Chris Washburne: Trombone; Per Mathisen: Bass; Tony Moreno: Drums.