Wayfaring forges a striking hybrid between folk rusticity and high-grade improvisation | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Wayfaring forges a striking hybrid between folk rusticity and high-grade improvisation


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Before clarinetist James Falzone relocated from Chicago to Seattle last fall to pursue a teaching position, he cemented Wayfaring, his duo with bassist and singer Katie Ernst, with a performance at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. The musicians also recorded a stunning record, I Move, You Move, which was recently released by Allos Documents. Modern jazz history is rife with strong duos, but Wayfaring stands out by, channeling ideas from American folk tradition or the church (where both musicians have spent significant time performing) into music that extends well beyond the language of jazz. While she’s best known as a bassist, Ernst is also a formidable singer—whether tracing wordless melodies or singing folk standards like “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” or “Wayfaring Stranger,” she delivers lyrical shapes with exquisite, unembellished focus. Her intonation is thrillingly precise, and when she improvises, as on the title track, she recalls the time-stopping mastery of Jeanne Lee’s duets with pianist Ran Blake—except that she’s simultaneously intertwining her lean, woody bass lines with Falzone’s swooping, clean-toned clarinet curlicues. She doesn’t sing on everything: “Alton Sterling” is a driving postbop burner where Ernst’s propulsion obviates any need for a drummer, while “Tanka” is a concise three-part marvel that moves from hypnotic long tones to abstract voice-and-clarinet flutters to intimate chamber playing where refined lines intersect in high-level dialogue. An unexpected cover of My Brightest Diamond’s “This Is My Hand” juggles shruti box drones and intensity embroidered by Falzone’s jaunty Paiute flute passages while Ernst brings a tactile heft to her faultless elocution. Falzone’s recitation of the Thomas Merton poem “In Silence” feels a bit too earnest against Ernst’s easy delivery, but she brings welcome balance by melodically echoing certain words.   v

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