By Paul Acquaro
Trumpeter Joe Moffett's group is described as a "microtonal free jazz quintet" which after listening to Ad Faunum seems pretty apt. However, what that tag doesn't convey is how they smolder with such intensity, releasing wisps of melodic smoke that hints at the powerful combustion within.
The group features a somewhat unusual line up, joining Moffett is Noah Kaplan on tenor sax, Giacomo Merega on electric bass, Jacob William on double-bass, and Luther Gray on drums. Moffett uses the various combinations of the basses and horns quite intriguingly, interweaving lines, and playing off the contrasting textures to create a very dynamic sound.
The first tune, 'Herdsmen', is episodic, starting with the group delivering a bunch of rhythmic hits and a somewhat askew melody. While seemingly a straightforward delivery, unexpected harmonies belie the subtle microtonal use within the melodic passages. The drums and bass join in with a subdued energy that adds intensity and depth but never overpowers.
The follow up, 'The Other Species', kicks off with the sax playing an unaccompanied introduction, but soon hands off lead to Moffett. The ending of the song features both Moffett and Kaplan playing intertwining melodies while William adds low bowed bass lines. Again, it is a smart and somewhat subdued exploration of tonality and restrained power. Passages throughout the tunes show off the leader's unique understanding of how to shape the sounds and scales from the trumpet. For the most part, Moffett usually sticks within the horns more common tonality, and judiciously uses extended technique to shade and color.
The tune 'Matador' shows off a different side of the group, featuring a pulsating electric bass and the two horns playing uptempo lines over the drums abstract swing. Some element of it, maybe it is the bass way down in the mix and the drums vibrancy, makes me think just a little bit of Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro. By the time the last song, 'Where Buzzards Fly', rolls around, the potential energy has turned kinetic and the group is (actually, has been) firing on all cylinders .
Ad Faunum is an expressive album featuring abstractly constructed songs and compelling free improvisation. It engages the listener with a strong core of energy and delights with intelligent phrasings and interactions.