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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Quoan - Fine Dining (Orenda, 2018) ****

I want to start by highlighting the production on Quoan’s Fine Dining. This acoustic quartet’s debut, recorded live, is captured pristinely. There’s a lushness rounding the edges of the frame, so to speak. Brian Walsh’s clarinets (including bass and contrabass), Dan Rosenboom’s trumpets and flugelhorn, Sam Minaie’s double bass, and Mark Ferber’s drums each resonate in the mix, adding breath and life and a sense of motion to a set of both composed and improvised originals. High praise? You bet. The session was recorded in Highland Park, and Orenda’s building out a new studio this year. Except a lot of beautiful-sounding albums to start coming out of LA. The layers of care and attention run deep, underscoring the overall lightness and joviality in the group’s performance.

And then there’s the music, of course. Seven compositions (four from Walsh, three from Rosenboom) are woven together with five group improvisations, giving all the players plenty of room to stretch out. Several of the composed tunes run nearly 10 minutes, leaning into the players’ long history of performing together: Walsh and Rosenboom have played together, Rosenboom and Minaie are both in DR. MiNT, and Ferber played drums on Minaie’s 2017 album Heyo! That familiarity leads the players down some interesting paths, heard right out of the gate on “The Last.”

The opener has some echoes of Masada, with Minaie and Ferber locking into bouncing groove that segues into a fusion-style funk during Rosenboom’s mid-song solo. It’s one of the early moments on the album of players signalling a turnaround to the others. Walsh gamely responds with an unhurried solo, featuring some excellent runs. “Fist” opens with a fast, boppish melody in the Don Cherry vein, only to take a left turn after 15 seconds. This Walsh composition has all four players improvising on some kind of extended technique during the middle section, before the melody cracks back into place. The two brief minutes of the album is a nice breather, and I can see this easily getting longer in a live setting. On the following track, “216,” the horns play Rosenboom’s seesaw, sing-song melody, while Minaie and Ferber lay down a swinging, driving rhythm. Rosenboom and Walsh are such great improvisers and players that you can almost forget what excellent composer they are. The melodies on Fine Dining are often hummable earworms, and, like “216,” they lock instrumentation together in fascinating ways. On the closer, “Braids and Brooms,” Walsh cleverly features himself and Rosenboom solo, before layering the two in a strikingly emotional unison.

The mediative closer serves as something of a tribute to the format itself, the acoustic pianoless quartet, bringing it back to its birthplace, the city where Ornette first honed his sound, before he landed at the Five Spot. There’s over a half century of history in Quoan’s hour-long debut, nestled and tucked in the between the snappiness of the songs and sharpness of the improvisations.


Martin Schray said...

Not only the music bows before the great Ornette quartet, the cover obviously quotes the famous self-titled Velvet Underground album. Nice review, Lee. The music can be heard here:

Lee said...

Thanks, Martin. I had a line about the "kill yr idols" cover but thought it was a bit too jokey.