Nick Fraser ‘Starer’ (Private Press) 4/5

nick-fraserNick Fraser has been a drummer and composer in the Toronto new jazz and improvised music community for over twenty years. The quartet’s album ‘Starer’ has admittedly been out some months now but there is still no harm in a review – pre or post release.
The quartet is made of Fraser on drums, Tony Malaby, saxophones, Andrew Downing, cello and
Rob Clutton on bass.
Whilst those not familiar with Nick Fraser’s work would just look at this as avant-garde jazz; listening to it makes you look beyond that sometimes misunderstood and often maligned soubriquet.
‘Minimalism/416 538-7149’ kicks the set off with drums and cello setting the rhythm, the bass augmenting the piece and the saxophone weaving in and out like a bird exploring its new habitat. The track has an almost cinematic quality to it and it has a nicely intriguing theme that draws the listener in.
‘Sketch #26’ is a short piece featuring drums, bass and saxophone engaging one another. An almost frenetic piece that could again, easily end up in a scene in a movie.
The title track has a Middle Eastern melody (if you want to call it that) that resonates throughout. This song as the others before shows an excellent interaction between the musicians.
‘Sketch #29’ is slow and sparse in arrangement but no less entertaining in content.
‘Jupiter (Sketch #15)’ is more abstract in arrangement with both cello and saxophone allowed more freedom and the drums and bass following their lead.
‘Sketch #20/22’ starts in a very slow and deliberate fashion with a crashing drum kit statement from Fraser and a response from Tony Malaby on soprano saxophone with a hint of cello. This ‘conversation’ carries on for the first 4 and a half minutes or so until things take a more spirited turn (for the better): drums play over a delightful bass solo before the tenor saxophone is called upon to solo – all the time the drums are becoming more and more ‘conversational’ sounding their most percussive yet. The tenor sax builds to its inevitable crescendo before coming down from its very high perch – and then it all stops. Remarkable.
‘Sketch #21’ is thoughtful and peaceful and features the quartet subdued reflective mood.
All in all, a very listenable album – not as difficult as some might feel. Just another interesting facet of jazz and one that deserves an audition.

Sammy Goulbourne