They were brought together by the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute from Columbia University and the joining together resulted in the debut album, “Further Explorations,” on the Artists Recording Collective label (ARC-2666).
The core of Alchemy Sound Project is Erica Lindsay (tenor saxophone), Sumi Tonooka (piano), Samantha Boshnack (trumpet), David Arend (bass) and Salim Washington (tenor saxophone, oboe, alto flute, bass clarinet). They had developed ideas of composition and performance that would be brought to life in this, their debut, recording. With them on “Further Explorations” is Willem de Koch (trombone) and Max Wood (drums, percussion).
David Arend described the process of synthesis of Classical and Jazz music and the fusion of the band’s inspirations. “The synergy of the band is awesome,” he said. “We’re inspiring each other, teaching each other, pushing each other, and it feels like new territory even though we’re drawing on centuries-old traditions.”
Salim Washington wrote the opening track, “Charcoal, Clear, Beautiful All Over.” Sumi Tonooka introduces the piece on piano and begins to weave the fabric of this lovely piece. Arend’s bass and Washington’s bass clarinet join in, followed by the whole band. Written for the bass clarinet primarily, Washington creates great space for all of the horns and rhythm section. The title is based on the loose interpretation of Tonooka’s first name, Sumi.
The duet between piano and bass clarinet is gorgeous and you find yourself falling in love with the performers themselves without knowing anything about them. Samantha Boshnack’s trumpet weaves in beautifully and the bass and drums are warm in their support.
“Further Explorations” is the composition of Erica Lindsay. The Salim Washington alto flute opens opens the track and Boshnack’s trumpet follows soon. Lindsay’s own tenor sax comes aboard as the Arend bass and Tonooka piano create the base beneath.
The piece is a journey of musical creativity and, of course, exploration. The piano/bass drive allows wide searches and expressions by all of the horns. The improvisations, the multi-faceted and multi-layered interpretations, the sometimes free form all serve to narrate the venture that Lindsay describes. The bowing bass, the charming flute, the piano accents, the andante drum rhythms, and those wonderful horns create a musical “Decameron” of multiple tale-telling.
Samantha Boshnack’s “Alchemical” follows with an opening of European counterpoint that is overrun by the heavy swing of piano, bass and drums. Tonooka’s piano gets a hot solo full of fire and friction that is incredibly compelling. Meanwhile, Arend and Wood keep the groove grinding. Lindsay’s tenor sax solo is equally scorching. All to create the catalytic processes required for such alchemy. Boshnack herself finishes the piece. Got to love this.
Sumi Tonooka’s “Waiting” comes next with some of the bluesiest piano on the album. The horns’ strum und drang section is soon supplanted by the return of the Blues from piano, trombone, trumpet and tenor sax. The piece is autobiographical in some aspects and the alternating calm and storm speaks of Tonooka’s own experience. The music is passionate as is the performance. The intonations of the sax and the phrasing of the trumpet and trombone is fascinating.
This was one of the real highlights of the album for me, moving from calm reserve to frenetic expression and hoping to find the right outcome.
“Beta” is by Erica Lindsay. The bobbing bass sets up the horns and piano. More tightly composed, the solos maintain the melodic lines. It is highly energetic and the riffs bounce from bass to oboe to piano to sax and trumpet. Max Wood on drums lays down some of the more fascinating rhythmic patterns of the album. But pay close attention to what Arend is doing on bass, especially when he underplays.
“Her Name is Love” is David Arend’s first composition on the album, the only member to get back-to back tracks. The bass clarinet plays underneath the trumpet and tenor sax in a lovely melodic line that gets mirrored by the bass. The cascading arpeggios are a fine accent. The piano is absent.
Arend adapted the piece from Czech composer Leoš Janáĉek. Stunning work.
“Archetype” is the second of the two pieces by David Arend. The archetype referenced is the archetypal Jazz form of big band. The seven-member band—with four horn players—carries the format off extraordinarily well. The piano sets up the tenor sax and the bass walks a tight rope behind. The interplay of these artists is fluid and unforced, lively and lovely, and always with a sense of supporting, not supplanting.
Sumi Tonooka sets the piano ablaze and Arend does nothing to extinguish the flames, adding fuel to the flame. Boshnack contributes a fine solo with the horns in agreement. Love it, love it.
Samantha Boshnack’s second contribution is “Divergency.” The divergent motifs see the oboe at odds with the other horns in a yin and yang twisting. Even the motifs separate and the rhythms run counter between piano and bass as the harmonies break apart. This was a trigonometric study in tangents and bisected angles and vectors. Brilliant.
“Joie de Vivre” is Sumi Tonooka’s final composition on the album. Listen for the Baroque counter-point in the midst of the cool melodies. Tonooka’s piano anchors the groove and Arend’s bass and Wood’s drums work off of her movement.
As the title suggests, it is a joyous piece with oboe and horns giving full-throated acclaim of their love of life and love of the music that they create together. Easy to love this one.
Salim Washington’s “The Call” takes them home. Written in honor of his cultural, musical, spiritual father-figure, Solodeen Muhammad, Washington creates an expression for the whole group. The dissonance, the broken rhythms, are alleviated by the strong melodies and monster groove that run beneath and then alongside and then dive again below the flow of Washington’s imagination. The free form counters the structured harmonics and, ultimately, the individual artists get their say in a final hook groove heading for the shout chorus that itself succumbs to alchemical dissolution.
Alchemy Sound Project’s “Further Explorations” is indeed a musical pilgrimage that searches the horizons and moves beyond them. The compositions are inspiring and intelligent and the performance artistry is exemplary. The album is a wonder. How is it possible to fall in love with people you never met, except in the affection that arises between composer/performer and listener?
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl