Trumpet player Jacob Varmus occupies a very interesting slot in the modern jazz canon. If I say Terminal Stillness could easily have been on the hallowed ECM label, that's a good start because, more than anyone else, his sound is highly reminiscent of the superb Kenny Wheeler, who's been a solid fixture in that label's long illustrious history, but there's more than that here, even to the point of traveling back to saxist Paul Winter's Consort days wherein he married his older spellbinding be-bop pyrotechnics to a richer and warmer modern antiquity generating the remarkable Oregon, whose work remains uncategorizable except as 'chamber jazz'. This, too, is chamber jazz, that's what Varmus is producing.
Having eschewn the, in his words, "fast paced New York jazz world where…development…happens so quickly you can't absorb it or breathe it in", he's opted for the moodier more lyrical side of the equation and often hits into the same cerebral territory where Miles (before he went fusion) and Tomasz Stanko find their inventions. In fact, going back a little ways, in only his first year at the University of Iowa, while an English major, he auditioned for the school's symphony orchestra and, while covering Hummel's Trumpet Concerto, noted the notoriously irascible conductor James Dixon in a state of agitation. Jacob ceased playing, fearing chastisement, but the venerable elder gent was as lavish in praise as he was in criticism and was uninhibitedly roaring "What a sound! What a sound!". Varmus needed no further encouragement.
And there is indeed a great deal of the classical temperament in his dulcet notes, a broad sense of magnitudes and contrast, as well as the sort of rich backgrounds both stated and unstated that mark the presence of thought processes well transcending their influences. Varmus has written every cut but one here, and they act as chapters in a philosophical narrative upon landscapes and human activity, the latter especially in the propulsive Union. Pianist Kris Davis is the trumpeter's most prominent accompanist but guitarist Nate Radley tosses in a Methenian Chautauqua sound that lifts the compositions into another imagery context, capturing and offsetting particulars within the trumpeter's climes and entablatures. This is not just good jazz, you come to realize, but also serious music that's traveling back to wellsprings the masters of many past decades drew from.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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