Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: John Escreet

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011. 

John Escreet (piano)
The Age We Live In (Mythology Records; 2011)
Marcus Gilmore (drums), David Binney (sax)
Wayne Krantz (guitar), with Brad Mason (trumpet)
Max Seigel (trombone), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and
Christian Howes (string orchestration)

Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross; 2011)
David Binney (sax), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums)

John Escreet has been on the rise the last few years. A well disciplined associate of Jason Moran, Escreet combines complexity and beauty into a more cerebral jazz that is both forward-thinking as it is accessible.

This year has seen the release of two distinct albums, both recorded a month apart. And both albums show that Escreet is quietly climbing up the ladder of important post-modern jazz musicians. The first release of the year came in the form of the expansive, The Age We In Live In (Mythology Records). A Pandora's box of possibilities, Escreet creates a document that encompasses  elements of fusion, ambient, modern, and rock, and all with sincere cohesion and deep sense of adventure. "The Domino Effect" rolls out the gates like a beast, thanks to some fantastic playing by Krantz on guitar and Escreet's infectious, Headhunter-esque work on fender and keys. Binney and Gilmore both cut a large chunk of counterpoint, which makes for blistering conclusion.

The title track feels like it has more in common with King Crimson or Mahavishnu Orchestra. It's epic, with monstrous tones from Binney and Gilmore. Escreet draws a futuristic picture with an inward performance that pulls you into a different soundscape. Guest musician, Max Seigel (trombone), provides a foil for Binney to bounce concepts back and forth with as the sounds get bigger and bigger. "As The Moon Disappears," is an ethereal piece featuring Escreet in a mixture of piano and keyboard. A haunting piece that has the beauty of Eno's Discreet Music and Komeda's Rosemary's Baby. The Age We Live In turns out be a melting pot of rich ideas and shows Escreet really stepping into his own.

One of things that continually astounds me about John Escreet's music is the diversity of his compositions. His language is rising to a different level, higher than some of his contemporaries. Only few weeks later, he returned to the studio to record similar abstract themes with a second set of musicians (also including Binney) in the shape of Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross). There's a small bit of contemporary playing here that reflects the sound of the label, but overall this is still a broad-minded John Escreet session. "Collapse" demonstrates the group in beautifully twisted form. It's a complex piece with multiple themes that rise and fall. Escreet allows the musicians to work freely, but they all seems to come back together at just the right moment. This creates a unique melody and rhythm that is both somehow transcendent and linear before you realize.

"Escape Hatch" is a dizzying array of improvised notes, with the group in moving in various directions and at times creating a groove out of nowhere. Opsvik's bassline holds things together so the rest can roam freely. There's a classic approach to "Wide Open Spaces" in which  Escreet provides a chamber music setting. The piece is dominated by Opsvik's bass. But Escreet has delicately placed notes for everyone to touch upon creating a wonderful sound out of nothing. 

The electronic work on "Electrotherapy" feels like something off a John Foxx album. It's brief and atmospheric and really shows Escreet has been listening to a lot of different sounds over the last year. "Waynes World," is a piece originally on Escreet's first album. Consequences has the same fiery structure but features a lot more texture than its parent version, and it represents a nice way of closing the album but reminding the listener that this is where we came from but not where we're going next...

You don't get artist releasing two records in a year these days (with the exception of say, Wynton Marsalis). But when you have an artist with the exceptional talent and complex compositional thinking as John Escreet, you have to take notice. The Age We Live In and Exception To The Rule could easily be one double album under the same concept, but they are enjoyable and challenging as separate entities. These are two records that you shouldn't miss out on this year.

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