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AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Nick Fraser Quartet – If There Were No Opposites (2021; HatHut / Ezz-thetics)

Ed. Note: I actually started writing this review over 15 months ago. It remained on my “need to finish” list since then. Ouch. Sorry.

It took a little while but I eventually realized that Nick Fraser plays like two drummers. Though I am pretty sure that he only has two arms and two legs, he keeps these appendages working overtime while producing intricate rhythms, poly and otherwise.

Joining Fraser on this effort are Tony Malaby on saxophones, Rob Clutton on double bass, and Andrew Downing on cello. Sandwiched between two open-ended improvisations are five largely composed pieces. But the group bounces between structured and free jazz so fluently that you might miss the transitions.

Sketch #50 is a complex and chaotic piece that consists of variations on a rapid theme from Malaby. Toward the end, he adds frantic airiness to his blowing. Table 49, The Rex Hotel, Toronto is slower and quieter, with long-held notes and rough textures that eventually becomes a vehicle for Malaby’s soloing among intricate group dynamics.

The interplay between Malaby, Downing, and Clutton is a pleasure to experience. Whether following one another’s leads or playing counter to them, each musician phases himself in and out of what the others are doing. Thus, at points, the album resembles chamber music almost as much as it does outside jazz.

Shoe Dance and The Fashion Show were both composed for a dance company. The former is one of the more conventionally-structured tracks on the album. However, that conventionality is only surface level in that there are discernably repeating melodies. There is just too much going on for any toe-tapping to get off the ground. The latter offers up an opening of discordant free improv with gritty bowing from Clutton, which evolves into labyrinthine playing from all driven by the staggered percussion of Fraser.

All in all, this is a brilliant album that should be on the list of anyone who enjoys jazz music to throw curveball after curveball.