AMN Reviews: Noah Kaplan Quartet – Cluster Swerve (2017; HatHut Records)

Saxophonist Noah Kaplan has been recording for years, but this is the first time I’ve consciously spent a good chunk of time listening to his material. Joined by Joe Morris on guitar, Giacomo Merega on bass, and Jason Nazary on drums, Kaplan leads his group through nearly an hour of experimental improvisation on Cluster Swerve, their second release.

Kaplan’s playing focuses on outside and extended techniques, building alien landscapes and atmospheres with slowly-evolving microtones as well as free improv with ample bent notes. Nonetheless, he flirts with the lyrical from time to time, without quite committing to that approach. Morris contributes the cleanly-picked, spiky guitar lines that he is known for along with understated strumming. Merega and Nazary comprise a non-traditional rhythm section, in that they are more interested in rounding out statements made by Kaplan and Morris than setting up anything resembling a groove. In other words, they do their own things but manage to stay within the context of the overall group dynamic.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Cluster Swerve is its subtlety. While the album has its share of aggressive playing (mostly from Kaplan), none of the quartet needs to be in your face in order to make a statement. Instead, they quietly produce contributions that highlight each other’s and underscore Kaplan’s leadership. It is rare to hear a whole album so finely-drawn, and speaks to the skills of Kaplan and company.

A very solid and worthwhile offering.

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