Thursday, September 26, 2019

Throwing off preconceptions: Earprint (a pianoless quartet) has 'Easy Listening' coming up

The frontiers of cutting-edge jazz can be a larky playground in the post-modernist landscape.
Members of Earprint ponder a contraption foreign to their music.

For Earprint, a quartet whose very name reconciles nature and technology, its claim to a place on that terrain rests on sometimes laconic original tunes, whimsically titled, that are displayed in an all-acoustic format.

The album title (a forthcoming release credited to Endectomorph Music) is a thumb in the eye to a whole genre of music marketed to our parents and grandparents as soothing background. That's because any music worth paying attention to does not fall into that category as commonly understood. On Earprint's terms, "Easy Listening" in part means a quartet concept in which the  two horns don't attempt to fill in harmonies in the manner of pianoless groups of the past mid-century.

Instead, trumpeter Tree Palmedo and reedman Kevin Sun set out rigorous melodic parallelism, with bassist Simon Willson and Dor Herskovits establishing the rhythmic parameters. There's a go-your-own-way consistency that oddly never feels too diffuse.

Easy-to-assimilate counterpoint is the procedure in eleven compositions that avoid the simplistic, despite the concise duration of each. Nothing tasks the listener for more than five-and-a-half minutes. Within that span, variety of tempo and mood is sufficient to avoid the impression of terseness. Even the playful, one-minute "Suchness" doesn't feel truncated.

The breadth of the drummer's sound palette contributes impressively to evocations of free jazz. But there is little out-of-tempo playing and next to no extended techniques. None of the players "goes outside," except for some strangulated outbursts from Sun's saxophone in "Don't Look at the Pot" (advice from the worlds of cooking or poker?). "Gallimaufry," the fetching tune that follows, departs as much as anything else from how Earprint usually presents itself: Palmedo's horn is muted to match Sun's clarinet; the rhythmic layout is complex, a reflection of the miscellaneous message of the title.

"Big Bear" is outgoing, even aggressive  — one of the few pieces whose title seems entirely fitting. There's a high degree of simpatico interaction, even if all four men go out on their own like grizzlies roaming Yellowstone.
The title track is the most obvious indication of outreach to popular styles, with its rock beat underneath a catchy melody that could almost have lyrics set to it. But here as elsewhere, nothing is missing — neither vocals nor (heaven help us!) piano. Earprint is the real deal when it comes to music that feels new without the need to turn bizarre.

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