Label/Year: Skirl Records, 2017
Lineup – Loren Stillman: alto sax; Brad Shepik: guitar; Santiago Leibson: piano; Shawn Lovato: bass; Chris Carroll: drums.
American bassist Shawn Lovato puts all his musical influences to work on his debut album, Cycles of Animation, a poised collection of eight modern compositions mounted with the precious help of a quintet that features Loren Stillman on alto sax, Brad Shepik on electric guitar, Santiago Leibson on piano, and Chris Carroll on drums.
The burning counterpoint on “Loose Noodle” is absolutely stunning, provoking a hair-raising sensation as if an electric current would have been running in our veins. The rhythm, unwavering and strong in spirit, is disseminated by Lovato and Carroll, while Shepik focuses on the narration of an enigmatic episode, meticulously described with realistic expression. The rhythmic regularity of Leibson’s comping soon winds down, becoming loose when Stillman starts improvising. It reappears later, steady and nearly ritualistic, to finish the tune and favoring a few impulsive trills packed by the saxophonist.
Initiating its journey by visiting the piano trio realm, “Static Phases Illuminated” unpretentiously mingles improvisation with written material, featuring indomitable guitar reflections surrounded by delay effect before synched phrases take the central spot.
The title that lends its name to the album, "Animated Cycle", is divided into three parts, all of them shaped with a piano-bass-drums configuration. The first part is introspective and sorrowful, the second one creates an intriguing setting that balances the lyrical and the percussive sides, and the third sounds ample and vague, slowly catching sight of an air bubble to breathe.
On the shape-shifting neo-bop adventure “Brain Drain”, Lovato’s bass is set free but ends up swinging aplomb while inviting Leibson to the party. The pianist takes consecutive rhythmic figures with him, but minutes later, offers his place to Shepik, who clears up with consummate rhythmic coordination. To finish, Stillman steps in and flies high, having a pushy, pulsating funk groove supporting his endeavor.
The jittery “7th Street Jig” exhales folk tradition through the playful melodic statement but grows in a more exploratory avant-garde atmosphere. After the bass rambles over sweeping piano twirls, and saxophone cacophonies over crisp bass sounds, we have a fleeting collective improvisation prior to the restoration of the theme. This posture feels contrary to the closing piece, “Unplugged Slug”, where an uncompromising languor starts gaining weight very early with the introductory bass solo and proceeds in its subsequent seamless transitions. Although dreamy, Leibson’s solo keeps us alert throughout, while Stillman never loses confidence in his unguessable sayings, regardless if he has the guitarist’s eerie drones or the pianist’s tart chords sounding at a lower level. By the end, Shepik scrutinizes multiple timbres within the volubility of his melodic ideas.
Cycles of Animation serves as a showcase for an organic mosaic of colors, rhythms, and textures. Resorting to clever structural vistas, Lovato penned engaging pieces that emphasize the collective and the individual alike.
01 - Loose Noodle ► 04 - Brain Drain ► 08 - Unplugged Slug