Violin and strings, in general, have remained outliers in the jazz world. But they have…
Violin and strings, in general, have remained outliers in the jazz world. But they have been gaining greater currency in recent years. Apart from the improvisational fluency of players such as Regina Carter, Mads Tolling and the Marks (O’Connor and Feldman), string textures have found a place in a variety of contexts, giving new meaning to the term “chamber jazz.” The latest album from bassist-composer-bandleader Linda May Han Oh, Aventurine (Biophilia), provides a strong example of how strings can interweave with jazz sensibilities. Here, a string quartet and cellist (Jeremy Harman) are fully integrated into the sophisticated but always deeply musical mix, with the powerhouse rhythm section of Oh, drummer Ches Smith and pianist Matt Mitchell, and standout work from saxophonist Greg Ward.
Titled after the exotic and iridescent green quartz mineral, Aventurine affirms Oh’s stylistic and compositional fortitude. A coveted side person to Pat Metheny, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer and the late Geri Allen, Oh is also an artist with a potent and melodic vision all her own. On Aventurine, her writing shines from the outset, with the title track and other original pieces, alongside radical re-arrangements of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave” and Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered.” Hers is an aesthetic in which jazz values are respected, and revisited, with strings in tow. Chamber sensibilities are prominent within Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt, as heard on the trumpeter-leader’s Live in Santa Monica (Orenda). The Seattle-based Boshnack, residing in the shadows of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainer, has created a cohesive set of music during an artist-residence program sponsored by the Herb Alpert Foundation. She embeds the music with intentional allusions to geological and ecological themes, with telling titles such as “Subduction Zone,” “Tectonic Plates” and the peaceable closer, “Submarine Volcano.”
Boshnack’s melodic and adventuresome song structures play off of a compact yet texturally diversified ensemble sound, lent a chamber-esque ambience by the fine violinist-violist Lauren Elizabeth Baba and violinist Paris Hurley. Pianist Paul Cornish supplies some of the most inventive solos on the album, while the strings — in a variety of roles, sometimes tricked up with effects — add a distinctive touch. Strings play a much smaller role on Visitors (Tone Rogue), the debut album from co-leaders Christian Li (piano, keyboards) and Mike Bono (guitar). But when violinist Alex Hargreaves and string player Chris Marion insert their bowed sonic input, ears perk up. Hargreaves enlivens Li’s restless, antic “Little Rascals” and Bono’s tartly moody “Tango,” while Marion’s layered string sound waxes darkly ethereal on the finale, “Heart.” Also featured are cameos from the stellar tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens.
Violist Jessica Pavone joins the still fairly slender ranks of musicians creating new approaches and earning new respect for the viola, as filtered through a (mostly) jazz prism. Among her many contexts broached so far, Pavone has collaborated with guitarist Mary Halvorson, a kindred lateral-thinking creative spirit. But her excellent new In the Action (Relative Pitch) finds Pavone reveling in exploratory solitude, going solo and boldly employing the many colors in her palette. That range begins in a minimalist-mystical mode on “Oscillatory Salt Transport” and veers into areas of sound-processing and varied schemes of abstraction on “And Maybe in the End” and the cathartically noisy “Look Out, Look Out, Look Out.” All tracks lead to an earthier mode, though, with a pleasing waft of folk-inflected flavor on the title track, for example, suggesting music in the Appalachian Mountains by way of some alternative/alien cultural landscape. Pavone isn’t interested in brandishing virtuosity or flash here, just in following her exploratory heart to wholly satisfying destinations. - Josef Woodard