Jacob Sacks - Fishes

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel – Jacob Sacks: piano; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Michael Formanek: acoustic bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

Pianist/composer Jacob Sacks has been an important voice in the adventurous jazz with the stamp ‘made in New York’. Although revealing dynamic writing skills, he doesn't record as much as a leader, preferring to disseminate his irresistible sonic zest in projects of likes such as David Binney, Dan Weiss, and Eivind Opsvick or co-leading duos (with singer Yoon Sun Choi) and quartets (Spirals, 40Twenty, Two Miles a Day). The exceptions to this rule are his quintet albums Regions (1999) and No Man’s Land (2013).

Always leaning on the avant-garde without neglecting traditional forms and sounds, Sacks now convenes a pungent new quintet with provocative saxophonists Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Dan Weiss, the only one who remained from the former group.

Released on Clean Feed label, Fishes features eleven tracks, five of which are sketchy, relatively short collective improvisations with Carnegie in the title. The ambiguity of these sonic canvases usually comes from two disparate melodic threads created by the reed players, fulminant single-note drives and disarming chords that sometimes lead to whimsical piano textures, and an unimposing bass-drums flux.

The stimulating “Saloon” kicks in with a mix of gabbles and cackles in the frontline after which a majestic, swinging groove installs to welcome Sacks’ atonal inflections, illustrated with a strong rhythmic feel. The saxophonists shine one at the time, juxtaposing their sounds for brief moments as the tune comes close to the final.

The highly motivic “This Is A Song” swings even faster, creating a flickering curtain of instrumental forces prior to setting the improvisers free. It’s curious how the pianist, with all his probative legato cascades and staccato attacks, has a sure sense of swing. It’s all modern in its construction.

Displaying tangible themes and perceptible structures, both “The Opener” and “III Blues” strive with unisons and spiky improvisations. Whereas tenor, soprano, and piano inflame the former piece, which also features Weiss with his expressive drumming style, the latter is navigated at a triple time with fragmented, Monk-like deconstructions.

Five Little Melodies” has the reedists’ circumnavigating a romantic classical axis with nonchalant melodies. In opposition, the more obscure “Chopped In” is introduced by Formanek’s quietly weeping arco bass, with Sacks’ non-invasive pianism gradually taking control of the scene. It’s a moody chamber exercise with a prevalence of timbre and cinematic quality.

The creative ideas either take seductively cerebral or emotionally spontaneous forms. Even though it carries some complexity, Fishes is still an approachable outing from an adventurous pianist in full bloom and at the helm of his own group.

 Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Saloon ► 03 – This Is a Song ► 11 – III Blues