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By Hrayr Attarian
A dynamic collaborative trio, Ember consists of saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis — here playing stritch, reed trumpet and trumpet — bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Vincent Sperrazza. The ensemble’s third release, the imaginative August in March, consists of 11 originals by all three musicians and highlights the group’s creative energy and seamless camaraderie. Intimacy and a smooth flow of ideas are hallmarks of their music.
Garabedian penned the wistful title track, which opens with his con arco musings. Wheeler Curtis weaves his lyrical phrases with that of the bassist, and Sperrazza’s carefully placed, sparse beat clusters enhance the delightfully dark atmosphere. Garabedian bows warm refrains that form a backdrop to Wheeler Curtis’ crystalline, shimmering solo. Sperrazza’s turbulent drums and splashing cymbals add yet another intriguing dimension.
Equally dramatic, Wheeler Curtis’ bittersweet, hypnotic “Floatation Devices and The Shivers” floats over Sperrazza’s thumping rhythmic pulse. Garabedian echoes Sperrazza’s throbbing cadence, resulting in an expectant mood. Wheeler Curtis embellishes the main theme gradually and deconstructs the melody with lithe elegance. The performance concludes with somber serenity.
Primarily known as an accomplished saxophonist, Wheeler Curtis introduces unexpected instrumentation here. On the collectively improvised “No Signal,” his muted trumpet rises, like a chant, over the crisp reverberations of his bandmates to mystical effect. Meanwhile, on Sperrazza’s soulful “Frank in the Morning,” his acerbic woodwinds complement the tune’s funky swagger. Over Sperrazza’s angular groove and Garabedian’s contemplative vamps, Wheeler Curtis improvises with fiery, circular lines and poignant high notes.
Ember, with its refreshingly novel style, distinctive ideas and superlative musicianship, has made an album that is both forward-looking and accessible. Thoughtful and moving, August in March is an absorbing listening experience.