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Formanek, Michael: Small Places

After his successful debut as a band leader on 2010's The Rub and Spare Change, double-bassist Michael Formanek had to come up with another winner as a follow-up, which he's accomplished on the highly engaging Small Places. Along for the ride once again with Formanek are alto sax player Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

As unpredictable at times as their previous release The Rub and Spare Change was, they've upped the ante here on Small Places. Mixing quirky, upbeat & complex jazz fusion ("Small Places" and "Pong") with darker, almost avant-garde type compositions ("Parting Ways"), the quartet do a great job of keeping the listener on their toes throughout the album. Formanek's elastic, melodic lead melodies kick in the dramatic "Rising Tensions and Awesome Light", allowing for Berne & Taborn to snake their way into the mix with haunting melodies of their own. The leaders yearning lines once again drive the majestic "Slightly Off Axis" alongside some tender notes from Taborn, and the sultry "Seeds and Birdman" has a mysterious edge to it thanks to some crafty counterpoint between Berne & Taborn. The quartet go for a more laid back, sexy jazz feel on "Wobble and Spill", with Berne's sax slithering and snaking its way through the mix, and closer "Soft Reality" sees Formanek pull out his bow and drag plenty of mournful, tender notes out of his bass that just weave and wrap around the bleak piano melodies from Taborn and Berne's soaring flights.Chilling stuff.

From its upbeat beginnings to its almost mournful conclusion, Small Places does its best to drag every bit of emotion out of these players and firmly implant them in the brain of the listener. It's rare that you hear so many colors, textures, and emotions conveyed in music these days, but Formanek, Berne, Taborn, and Cleaver have done just that here. Bravo once again to a quartet that clearly are doing something truly remarkable in the field of jazz.

Track Listing

  1. Small Places
  2. Pong
  3. Parting Ways
  4. Rising Tensions And Awesome Light
  5. Slightly Off Axis
  6. Seeds And Birdman
  7. Wobble And Spill
  8. Soft Reality

Added: November 15th 2012
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: ECM Records
Hits: 4295
Language: english

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Formanek, Michael: Small Places
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-11-15 12:56:14
My Score:

At first glance Small Places by Michael Formanek can look like yet another straight ahead jazz outing from those specialists in the field ECM. However peer a little more closely, let your eyes adjust to the gloom, and slowly a whole new picture emerges. Dark, it is, dense, well there's certainly no doubt. But free flowing, intricate and angular also reveal themselves as the image clears. Formanek himself is an acoustic double bass player of great skill and poise, driving songs on, grabbing them by the scruff of their necks and demanding them to bend into shape. While all the time still allowing them to choose their own form and image.

Wonderfully titled tracks such as "Wobble And Spill" or "Rising Tensions And Awesome Light" live up to their names, with dizzying themes, utter bleakness and blinding hope being revealed through pinpoint accuracy that is allowed the freedom to have its own personality. However when your band comprises of Tim Berne on alto-sax. Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums and shruti-box, then there was never any fear of it being otherwise. Things can remain fixed, singular and steadfast at times, but these sections, while not always as fulfilling as they could be, certainly allow the more swirling, weaving passages to romp with full effect, while still somehow staying within themselves in a knowing cocky kind of way. "Seeds And Birdman" is a prime example where enigmatic free-form elbows next to emotional introspection and while the two don't always mesh completely as un-partable bedfellows, there's no denying that both aspects are handled very well indeed.

The album shines brightest when it is at its darkest, with the sax punctuated, 18 minute long "Parting Ways" having the ability to strip the vibe right back to bare bones, without being overly simple. The drums casually bound round the toms, never sitting still or taking the easy route, while the double bass wanders free, but with tact, allowing Taborn and Berne the room to stretch out and express the many different facets of their playing.

Definitely a mood album, Small Places won't satisfy on every occasion, but if you have the luxury to sit and really concentrate on an album, you'll for the most part be engaged and engrossed throughout.

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