(Released early 2015)
In the last Delhi Jazz Utsav, a band called the High Definition Quartet stood out amongst the ten or so performances spread over three days; they used, or so it seemed, silence as a melodic element, as punctuation between bursts of sound. There was little melody to speak of, and much less stability to their music, but the audience was rapt with attention. It was only when someone, quite loudly, yelled, “Play some music, hey!” I realized most of the audience was still waiting for them to start playing.
This was to impress upon you the task-ness of appreciating the newest jazz I have in my playlist, and the ineffable problem of writing about the ideas it deals with. Nick Sanders is a pianist straight out of Dixieland, but I can’t refer back to Jelly Roll or Goodman to understand him – his album, You Are A Creature, however, as densely populated as it is with ideas and with a sentiment of playful jazziness in its language, goes down easy with a touch of graininess. Like the unsmiling contortionist on the cover, Sanders’ music can be sensed like a complex thought experiment which starts with the consciousness of a beginning (“Let’s Start”) and picks up in speed and steadiness – and a kind of sad merriment – somewhere during the fourth piece, “Round You Go.”
If I may risk talking about this music as an object of a listening exercise, the ephemera works like a charm – you need not try to piece together an idea from the disjointed notes of the piano (as a non-musician, I felt often as if he were hitting the piano with his right index finger, one key at a time). Instead, remember only the previous two seconds and pay attention to the next two; the focus keeps heightening and weighing up on itself until punctured by a quirky few seconds somewhere in between. The dissonance is almost pleasant. Sanders even gives us the cue for our method to the music, when he says, “In this day and age, people’s attention spans aren’t very long,”
The atonally rhythmic, disjointed, dissonant key-work of the pieces comes forth in full flow in the eponymous “You Are A Creature,” and one suddenly realizes that this jazz is not all chaos; it is but an experiment with very specific controls. Sanders sets up a scheme of contrapuntal harmonics and works his way through it with an almost-homophonic sound. Like the contortionist, the piece climaxes in a melancholic coda with the drums taking over the mood; the complexity of tangled sounds unrolls into something simpler and more human-like.
“Zora The Cat” is the loveliest piece of all in this album – I do not understand it at all.
The penultimate piece, “Day Zombie,” is rich with the idea of death, like all good endings. The atmosphere seems set in the minor, and like a good Minecraft zombie, this one struggles and burns, and around the four-minute mark, his heartbeat peaks one last time before flat-lining. The funeral of the idea of experiments is the final piece, “The Blessing,” which seems to look back towards a simpler time, melodically.
This music seems to be growing on me, until I forget it. Who minds though: it’s an ephemera after all.
Image Source: The Viewspaper