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Friday, December 8, 2017

The Few - Fragments of a Luxury Vessel (Two Cities, 2017) ****½

I stumbled upon The Few at a show in a now defunct spot in Brooklyn about a year or so ago. They were either the headlining or supporting Ken Vandermark playing solo, or maybe it was a bit of both. Regardless, if I recall correctly, Vandermark opened up the sonic pathways for the The Few to then make their own. The trio's reserved but insistent approach was captivating, and by the end I was eagerly anticipating what would become their debut album Fragments of a Luxury Vessel.

The Few is violionist/vocalist Macie Stewart, bassist Charlie Kirchen, and guitarist Steve Marquette. Together they paint a musical picture that melds Americana-tinged experimental improvisation informed by classical, rock, and folk. Their music is quiet, but the edges are not smooth.

Stewart is a prominent voice in the group, though there really is no one who dominates. Her violin provides melody, percussion, and textural sounds.  Marquette on acoustic guitar builds a harmonic bed full of melodic elements and crunchy tonal clusters. Kirchen's bass is typically balanced in the mix but can be heard more prominently at times, like on the duo passage on the Albert Ayler homage 'Variations on "Truth Is Marching In"'. Stewart also adds wordless vocals in a warm mid-range that sort of extends her instruments reach, rather than being a focus. 

The opener, 'Responsive Machines', begins with crystalline chord-like jabs from the guitar. Juxtaposed with tiny plucks and the bow bouncing off the violin strings, the track sets the tone for the album: serious, meticulous, and probing. Stewart's vocals appear, accentuating a rhythmic passage but eventually give way to a melody from the violin over an insistent bass line. They pick up some serious steam at this point, showing off another side of the group. 'Do You Still' showcases the trio deep in free improvisation, and the follow up 'Variations on "Truth Is Marching In"' begins with a rather lovely folk tune, expanding and evolving as it progresses.

The Few have a carefully curated sound that emphasizes the group and seamlessly segues between song and exploration. The sonic clarity is important too - each note, hit, snap, and scrape is an aspect of their approach. 

If I recall correctly from the show, when Vandermark joined he did so on clarinet, assimilating with The Few's aesthetic. Their sound is delicate, celebrates nuance, and self assuredly unique. A true soft-spoken gem.