Monday, March 31, 2014

'With the Wind and the Rain': Small-scale dynamo

With the Wind and the Rain
Joshua Breakstone
Capri Records


For me, small combos are jazz heaven. I love the sweep and complexity of the great swing arrangements, but more limited ensembles give me a chance to really hear each line, to truly gauge and weigh the contributions of each individual member.

This kind of work is the acid test for musicians as well. Bringing so few instruments to bear, flaws are exaggerated . . . and if it doesn’t flow and pulse, there’s no help for it. Fortunately, such is not the case with Joshua Breakstone. It’s been 10 years since his “A Jamais” CD became a welcome part of my listening rotation, and “With the Wind and the Rain” shows both development in Breakstone’s expressive techniques and a surer, more penetrating focus.

However, Breakstone is not accomplishing all this in isolation. He’s supported by his long-time accomplices Lisle Atkinson on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. Their rapport seems founded on a common love of strong, clear line. If Breakstone were a visual artist, he would be a draftsman. His notes are placed with exactitude, moving with an old-school “vocal,” almost narrative clarity, through each piece. Zigmund’s clutter-free tattoos gently underline the rhythmic path, and Atkinson gets to romp through several pieces composed by bassists on the album.

Part of the reason for that last factoid is that cellist Mike Richmond is on the ride for 4 of the 9 numbers on the album. The emphasis on strings pushes the album’s foundational trio into a quartet for these tracks, and Richmond’s abandonment of the bow keeps the notes hammering out, the tempos crisp and the musical ideas flying without hindrance.

The overall effect is one of understated intensity. Inside the deceptively small-scale dynamics of “With the Wind and the Rain” are a constellation of fascinating thoughts and feelings that bear repeated listenings.

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