Patrick Cornelius – Acadia: Way of the Cairns LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

The latest music from Patrick Cornelius takes its inspiration from the wilderness area and national park Acadia in North Eastern Maine. Acadia is also the name of the band who are former members of the Transatlantic Collective, reunited here for this project led by Cornelius. The European half are Estonian Kristian Randall (piano) and Paul Wittgen (drums) from Luxembourg; the US half comprises Patrick Cornelius (sax) and Whirlwind record label founder Michael Janisch (bass).

For Cornelius “everything is driven by friendship”. He explains that the band forms the lead voice rather than any single musician; the concept of the collective remains a driving force for the music. Cornelius has been New York-based for 19 years but spent his formative years in San Antonio, Texas. He was inspired to become a jazz musician by what he describes as the huge arts culture in Texas schools. The idea of the South remains an important part of his identity.

An interesting interview with Cornelius on YouTube from Neon Jazz gives an insight into the life of a musician during this period of quarantine. “Everything is okay” he says, “when he’s playing” and as a musician, he loves “the hang” and is socially driven. Describing his quarantine lifestyle as 70 per cent kids and 25 per cent teaching it leaves limited time for the music itself. Practising helps keep him centred, as he describes himself as “somewhat stressy”, so this helps to keep it together.

It seems timely for a New York musician to release an album inspired by the wilderness though it was actually recorded in 2019. The record is dedicated to “the natural wonder and beauty of our planet and the spirit of musical kinship”. The appeal of the open wilderness is obvious at the moment rather than the crowded urban space which jazz is more frequently associated.

My personal favourite on the album is ‘Darkest Night’. A flowing piano shares space with the wonderful sound Janisch gets from his bass, evident all over the record. Cornelius’ sax echoes the theme while the piano and bass interplay alternates between light and dark like a torch beam lost in the night. There’s an accompanying video to the tune which really showcases Janisch’s technique. This is nicely contrasted with the preceding track, ‘Seawall Sunrise’, a quiet piece with an obvious watery theme. Light on the water is alluded to, conjuring visual imagery in an almost cinematic way.

There’s a Celtic thread running through the album, particularly evident in the opening tune ‘Way Of The Cairns’. The piano part is so low in the register it allows the bass to break the surface; the melody is repeated before Cornelius takes an exploratory detour away from the signposted footpath and into the wilds.

The album covers plenty of ground, from the child-like melody of ‘Star Party’ to the taut excitement of ‘On The Precipice’. The record closes with the reflective piece, ‘Ten Years Later’, where the band contemplate the ten years that have elapsed since they first came together as the Transatlantic Collective.

In the Neon Jazz interview, Cornelius describes himself as “quirky and nerdy” (nothing wrong with that) and goes on to say “if you like me you’ll like my music, if you don’t like me you won’t like my music”. I don’t know if his personal characteristics are evident in the music but I certainly like it more each time I listen.

James Read