The Esthesis Quartet was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of its initial sessions had to be conducted over Zoom. That’s hardly ideal for establishing band chemistry — particularly in jazz, which has traditionally been about musicians learning to make magic together while packed into tight spaces, where each movement, gesture or glance can be observed and immediately processed without technological assistance. But the group’s beguiling debut
, recorded in a Los Angeles studio with all members present, demonstrates that such obstacles can be overcome. The playing on the album is all about togetherness.
The project starts on a charming note with “Cricket.” A forceful opening riff from pianist Dawn Clement, bassist Emma Dayhuff and drummer Tina Raymond gives way to a witty chirp of a pattern by flutist Elsa Nilsson. But this is no novelty tune. The introduction triggers a tempo shift led by Dayhuff, whose sinuous solo leads to a Nilsson spotlight infused with passion and power that proves contagious.
“Two Moons,” which follows, is more meditative, marked by some of Dayhuff’s most melodious explorations. The song proves the perfect table-setter for “Partial,” a vocal piece in which Clement delivers her probing lyrics (“Am I on your list/Or only in between?”) with an ethereal timelessness. “We Watch It All Burn” has a long fuse, allowing plenty of opportunities for Nilsson to stretch out over Raymond’s complex rhythms, while “The Gardener” strikes an appropriately pastoral mood. And the concluding “Finding What’s Lost,” also featuring Clement’s vocals, tackles grief generated by the death of Nilsson’s father with moving profundity.
In unity there is strength, as the Esthesis Quartet confirms one note at a time. — Michael Roberts
Featured photo by Dan C.