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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Kevin Frenette Four - Connections (Fuller Street Music, 2007) ****

"Boston is just a stone's throw from New York, and yet the two cities are worlds apart, as far as music is concerned. While the spirit of jazz has haunted the streets of New York for a hundred years, jazz music is more of an intellectual affair in Boston. (...) Nevertheless, musicians such as Joe Morris and Joe Maneri have managed to develop an idiom whose unmistakable unification of intellectual calculation, uncompromising desire for independence, expressive fire and introverted nobility could only be possible in Boston's musical climate". The words are not mine, but those of Wolf Kampmann on the liner notes of Bostonian Jeff Platz's Bright Light Group of several years ago, yet the same text could have figured on guitarist Kevin Frenette's debut album, on which he is joined by Andy McWain on piano, Todd Keating on bass and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion. You don't have to look far for the intellectualism with track titles such as "Network Theory", "Logic Synthesis", "Correlation Coefficient", "Combinatorial Mathematics", etc. ... which are as far removed from the soul and blues tradition of jazz as can be imagined. Despite it's abstract nature, the quartet's musical approach is interesting. Without clear compositions, it brings nervous and agitated music, intense and busy. It often reminded me of Jackson Pollock's approach to painting : the whole canvas is full with streaks and splatters of paint. There are no clear reference points or figurative possibilities, yet the overall effect is coherent, balanced and even symmetrical. There is structure, but not in a melodic, rhythmic or temporal sense. The four musicians play together, almost all the time simultaneously, with short bursts of notes and phrases, almost unconnected within the playing of the individual instrument, yet very much connected to the whole, built around a tonal center. The third track "Logic Synthesis" brings a little bit of a breathing pause in the album, leaving more space and openness in the music. The longest track "Combinatorial Mathematics", is also quite open too, and probably emotionally the most expressive, if that notion is applicable to this kind of music. Not all the tracks are successful, but the skills of the four musicians in delivering the goods is excellent, making this highly unusual approach something worth listening to. Because of the music, Frenette, McWain, Keating and Nakatani all individually create interesting new explorations of their own instruments. But you will need some open ears at times. To end with a more famous quote by Thelonious Monk : "You know, anybody can play a composition and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It’s making it sound right that’s not easy" (although I'm not sure in which category Monk himself would have put Frenette's music, I would put it in the latter).

Listen, download or order from CDBaby.