What first indicated to me that this was likely to be an unusual disc was noting that Stories from the Years of Living Passionately contains only five tracks, all of them long, giving plenty of elbow room to each member of the quintet to stretch out and paint a mural rather than a confine themselves to a canvas hung in an out of the way corner of some sonic museum. From the outset, I caught many flavors and influences: Chuck Mangione, Oregon, Bob James' best, Gabor Szabo, the CTI label outflow effect on modern jazz, and many other ingredients. Like Pat Metheny's earlier catalogue, there's a distinctive Chautauqua mode happening here (a 'Chautauqua' is a 19th/20th century adult education process heavily involving lectures and the arts), a sonic form of story-telling combined with travelogue, a feeling of moving along landscapes.
Guitarist Noshir Mody's an interesting player and composer, on the performance side not at all bombastic, in fact kind of a quiet version of a Jeff Beck, a cat first famed for his unorthodox 'flash' playing, where colorations are far more important than the blinding dexterities common to the rock world and which accounted for the evolution into his landmark, the stunning Blow by Blow release. But 'flash' isn't the proper term here, as Mody employs a gentle but engrossing set of narratives, structures, and limnings weaving into the tapestry of the group effort…and in his work, the group is all-important, the united effort not just the intriguing commentaries within. Tsuyoshi Niwa plays a very Paul McCandless-esque soprano sax as pianist Carmen Staaf whirls slowly through the atmospherics, ably abetted by bass (John Lenis) and drums (Yutaka Uchida) rising and falling like ocean waves, eddying as though breezes speaking with the earth.
My favorite cut? A Pearl Discovers the Oyster. The attentions to florid pastorality gain a sharper more laconic edge in this track, and every square inch is filled with cerebral brush strokes, each stave and measure devoted to novo-baroque explication, instrument flowing to instrument, solos abounding but every particular wrapped up in an ecstatic package with shaded night lurking just beyond the late summer end-of-day atmospherics. High art, as far as I'm concerned, one of the year's stand-out cuts so far, within a CD that doesn't brazenly demand re-listening but instead seduces. You'll be tossing it into the player again and again without even realizing it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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