The sonic wizardry of Fantastic Merlins | Bleader

The sonic wizardry of Fantastic Merlins

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I've only had a chance to listen to it a couple of times, but Look Around (Innova) by the Minneapolis-New York combo Fantastic Merlins immediately worked it way into my head. The superb production by tenor saxophonist Nathan Hanson shows how electronics can brilliantly enhance the sound of an acoustic group--they give the music a huge wallop from the bottom and a pleasing plumpness all the way around.

The album finds a wonderful halfway point between jazz and chamber music, reveling in a thick, elegant atmosphere with slow-moving tunes and carefully intersecting and overlapping lines. Hanson, cellist Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan, and bassist Brian Roessler are a tight unit, often playing either monolithic unison lines or intricate contrapuntal constructions where the pieces lock together like parts of a puzzle. Italian drummer Federico Ughi alternately caresses and throttles the dense frontline activity.

I'm not sure how this big sound will translate in a live setting--a few live tracks on the record lose some of the atmospheric beauty--but the record is so strong I have to imagine that there's more than enough substance to easily survive the transition. The group plays tomorrow night at Elastic. The superb trio AAT--bassist Josh Abrams, vibist Jason Adasciewicz, and drummer Nori Tanaka—share the bill.

Today's playlist:

Andrew Bishop, Hank Williams Project (Envoi)
Tubby Hayes and the All-Stars, Return Visit (Fontana)
Bobb Trimble,  Iron Curtain Innocence (Secretly Canadian)
Arthur Russell, Springfield (Audika)
The Cats and the Fiddle, We Cats Will Swing for You, Vol. 2 (Fabulous)

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