On his captivating debut album, Trouble
, Chicago-based saxophonist Max Bessesen weaves sorrow and joy, passion and eloquence into a powerful artistic statement. The nine originals and one cover that make up the album range from tender ballads to bold and jarring tunes, and from short poignant statements to introspective explorations.
The opener, “Whirling,” unspools over a hauntingly sparse backdrop of rhythmic flourishes. Within this expectant ambience, Bessesen’s wailing alto and trumpeter Ron Miles’ growling horn circle one another with intense, dissonant lines. In contrast, the album concludes with the achingly beautiful Sammy Cahn standard “Be My Love.” Laced with romanticism, the composition starts off with bassist Ethan Philion’s contemplative solo. Bessesen and Miles (the saxophonist’s mentor) mirror each other with individual lyrical improvisations that bounce off the band’s sashaying vamps in shimmering tones.
The shorter tracks gracefully bleed into the more expansive ones. Drummer Nathan Friedman’s unaccompanied, thunderous monologue, “Nungam,” sets the stage for the Eastern-flavored and gripping “Bakkam.” Bessesen’s fiery saxophone states the main theme, rich with oriental motifs. Pianist Eric Krouse embellishes the melody with intriguing musical ideas that build a multilayered extemporization with breathtaking virtuosity.
Similarly, Bessesen plays the pensive “Trials” alone, before his rippling, agile refrains seamlessly merge into the title piece. Miles’ muted, mournful phrases expand over Krouse’s melancholic, classically inspired pianism. Friedman’s rustling brushes and Philion’s resonant, understated pizzicato contribute to a wistful atmosphere on this heartfelt tribute to their late comrade, guitarist Zac Nunnery.
With his freshman effort, Bessesen proves himself an exciting composer and a dynamic performer with a singular sound. Trouble
is a cohesive and engaging recording that pushes boundaries without being abstruse and is stirringly emotive while eschewing melodrama. It’s an auspicious start. — Hrayr Attarian