Fuse Jazz CD Review: “Singular Curves” — An Album of Subtle Insinuations

With their expert handling of powerfully understated compositions, this trio’s performances insinuate themselves into your mind and age there like fine wine.

Singular Curves: Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor/Adam Nussbaum Trio, (Auand Records 9040).


By Michael Ullman

In 2004, tenor saxophonist and composer/arranger Ohad Talmor, who grew up in Geneva and currently lives in New York, wrote complicated arrangements of seven pieces by the venerable and prolific electric bassist Steve Swallow. The resulting disc, L’Histoire du Clochard, was striking for a number of reasons besides its mischievous French title (The Story of a Bum). The sextet featured, besides Talmor’s tenor and Swallow’s bass, a clarinetist, trumpeter, violinist, and trombonist. Swallow’s sometimes whimsical compositions, such as “Making Ends Meet,” were performed without piano or drums. Talmor makes the most of the unusual instrumentation: the plucked strings on “Sweeping Up” play against long tones from the winds and violin. The piece’s harmonies are advanced, yet the effect is hymn-like and tender, even in what I take to be its passages of group improvisation.(Talmor is in demand as an arranger. He also did two busy arrangements for guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Our Secret World.)

Singular Curves doesn’t repeat the striking textural innovations of L’Histoire. No matter: Carla Bley’s “Ups and Downs,” Nussbaum’s sophisticated drum feature “Now Four 2,” and Talmor’s slightly ominous-sounding insistence on “Flight to Missoula” proffer an enticingly wacky sound. There are also unique versions of two standards. “Carolina Moon” was a favorite of Thelonious Monk’s, though it is possible that the trio’s version was mostly influenced by the clipped phrasing of Tommy Dorsey’s jaunty 1938 recording. Here Swallow starts things off with a gentle, folksy statement of the first eight bars of the theme, after which the saxophone takes over. The piece is marked by Talmor’s sweetly probing improvisation and by the perfect tact of Swallow and Nussbaum. The drummer solos here on brushes with a fine precision that never overwhelms the delicate mood.

The group approaches “You Go To My Head” obliquely, even mysteriously. Swallow plays a repeated note over the swishing of Nussbaum’s airy cymbal while Talmor comes in with a hushed solo that barely hints at the chord changes and, at first, neatly skirts the well-known melody. The tune only becomes clearly identifiable by the bridge, about two thirds of the way through the track. With their expert handling of powerfully understated compositions, this trio’s performances insinuate themselves into your mind and age there like fine wine. Singular Curves‘ version of “Carolina Moon” has been sailing through my head for days.

Michael Ullman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the U. of Michigan, from which he received a PhD in English. The author or co-author of two books on jazz, he has written on jazz and classical music for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, High Fidelity, Stereophile, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe and other venues. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling, and others have appeared in academic journals. For over 20 years, he has written a bi-monthly jazz column for Fanfare Magazine, for which he also reviews classical music. At Tufts University, he teaches mostly modernist writers in the English Department and jazz and blues history in the Music Department. He plays piano badly.

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