Lingua Franca - Peter Epstein, Brad Shepik, Matt Kilmer
Songlines SGL SA1555-7
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Review by Mark Werlin - February 8, 2024
In this hybrid of jazz improvisation and Balkan rhythms, communication forges a collective sound that is consistent and personal
From the opening bars of the album, a quiet invocation stated by the alto sax, sustained guitar and gentle touches of percussion, the trio of Peter Epstein, Brad Shepik and Matt Kilmer invite the listener to accompany them in an encounter between North American jazz and Middle Eastern and European music.
The hybrid style of world music and jazz works best when the players have a strong grasp of the different idioms and a clear artistic goal. As saxophonist Peter Epstein explained to Songlines label head Tony Reif: “This project involves multiple musical languages in the sense that it is neither a world music album nor a jazz album exclusively. It’s one thing to make a hybrid of different styles or genres, it’s yet another to create a whole album where even different forms of hybrids can coexist.”
Rarely has the coexistence of jazz improvisation and world music influences sounded as purposeful and fluent as on “Lingua Franca”. The band plays with a lightness of touch that allows the music to breathe, and the use of different idioms never sounds forced or contrived. After the Middle-Eastern flavored “Two Door” and the fast 7/4 soul-jazz riffing of “Miro”, the band sets down in Ireland for the folk-dirge “Emerald”. Matt Kilmer’s rhythmic mastery, and his subtle use of hand percussion opens space for Brad Shepik’s inventive guitar solo on “Temoin”.
Shepik has recorded on many Songlines albums, dating back to the label’s first releases. He’s equally comfortable in a cranked-up jazz-rock setting as in these dreamy, atmospheric textural pieces. There was a close artistic collaboration with Peter Epstein on this project; Shepik composed five of the nine pieces that appear on the album.
Epstein switches to soprano sax on the hypnotic “Monsaraz”, ably supported by hand percussion and droning guitar. The lengthy, introspective piece “Kumanovo”, a blend of Central European motifs and jazz chords, is reminiscent of the 1970s world music-jazz pioneering group Oregon. As the album draws to a close on “Meditation”, gently-plucked acoustic guitar notes and a repeated rising saxophone phrase convey hope, and respect for the many cultures that inspired these musicians to create music of distinctive beauty.
The original analogue recording, engineered by Aya Takemura at Brooklyn Recording Company in August 2003 and January 2004 and mixed to 2.0 and 5.0 DSD, presents the players fairly close up, as if the listener’s position was in the first rows of a small performance space. You’ll hear in high resolution detail the touch of fingers plucking guitar strings, the resonance of the hand percussion, and the plaintive voice-like phrases of the saxophone.
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