The new master of clarinet, Frank Glover, issued the astonishing Politico (here) not long ago, so it was with a leap of expectation that I found Abacus in my mail box the other day, far sooner than I would've dared to hope and very happily so. "Wow!", thought I, "kinda like getting a second refund check from the IRS!". Wasting no time slipping the disc into my player, anticipation melted into bliss as an unexpected neoclassically-wrought masterpiece flowed from the speakers.
Whenever a jazz composer creates orchestral work, I'm interested, whether it's Chuck Mangione with his many such opuses, Butch Morris' bizarre conduction masterpieces, or Anthony Davis and the unknown classic, The Ghost Factory (and others). There's so much more discretion and subtlety in these opuses than with, say, the symphonic sweetening of rock and pop or the moribund one-dimensionality of John Williams and his hideously obvious film scores. Glover has long been under the thrall of Toru Takemitsu, a brilliant Japanese maestro sinfully neglected on these shores, weaver of such stunning pieces as From Me Flows What You Call Time, Gemeux, Dream / Window, and, of course, what RCA released as the Cantos quartet: Fantasma / Cantos, Water-Ways, Waves, and Quatrain II, all with the phenomemal Richard Stoltzman on clarinet, a man Glover is very much the equal of.
There are more than a few aesthetic ties between Abacus and Takemitsu, though Frank is much less episodic, not nearly so pointillistic, and certainly more Western in tone and temperament, yet the abundant abstractions, moderne colorations, and structures are all there alongside familiarities that rarely stay put, shading off into nuance and side pools of flow and compartmentalization. The nine songs are arranged in three movements and all flow with narrative clarity, Glover frequently picking up a soprano sax in addition to the licorice stick. His backing trio (Jack Helsley: bass, Zach Lapidus: keyboards, Dave Scalia: percussion) remains mysterious, in sympathy with the milieu entire, Lapidus the dominant secondary voice—sometimes even the prime integer—among them, more than a little Zawinuly in his airy vocabulary (small wonder, as Glover's sax is oft Shorteresque).
The 24-piece small orchestra is perfect, just large enough to subtly insert gravity but small enough to stay fluid and far-ranging. Pastels and fogs abound, hidden illumination efflorescing shadowy vistas and looping culverts, but there are also equally dark city nightscapes every so often glinting with blare and explosions of eventide hues. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, there's a kindredness to trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's later work circa Balladyna, From the Green Hill, Soul of Things, and other ECM gems. Don't expect a repetition of the clarinetist's Politico, you're not going to get it. What you will receive, though, is a foretoken of what I have no doubt will be one of the most important voices in American music 'ere long. Thus, expectation meeting reality, there's just one word for Abacus: exquisite.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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