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The latest recording by saxophonist-composer Quinsin Nachoff, Pivotal Arc is nothing if not ambitious: a compilation of two major pieces — a violin concerto and a string quartet offering — supplemented by a finale that seeks to dramatize the inflection point at which humanity finds itself in relation to climate change. And yet, this melding of classical influences and jazz verities is also unexpectedly accessible, consistently lively, fiercely intelligent and often flat-out exhilarating.
Nachoff’s key collaborator is violinist Nathalie Bonin, with whom he conceived the idea for a concerto that would feature her as primary soloist back in 2007. Despite a decade-plus gestation, the results don’t feel overcooked or fussy.
In addition to Nachoff and Bonin, the concerto is rendered by a clutch crew of jazz specialists, including vibraphonist Michael Davidson, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, plus a wind and string ensemble conducted by JC Sanford. The opening movement begins with some plucky atonality from Bonin prior to the entry of her fellow players, who joust with her in a manner that’s rhythmically complex and dramatically acute. A more introspective second movement is then followed by a concluding passage that draws from Eastern European folk traditions with pretension-puncturing jauntiness.
The four-section string quartet effort, a showcase for the gifted Molinari String Quartet, is tonally darker. The exercise in tension and release, juxtaposing gentle moments with heartbeat-raising flourishes, proves the perfect prelude for the title track’s mélange of mournfulness and aural beauty.
Given the multiplicity of elements assembled here, the resulting album could easily have wound up sounding like a patchwork rather than a single statement. But somehow, Nachoff manages to fit the various pieces together in a way that makes Pivotal Arc feel complete — and inspired. — Michael Roberts