Sam Gill's Coursed Waters - Many Altered Returns

Label: Earshift Music, 2019

Personnel - Sam Gill: alto saxophone; Novak Manojlovic: piano; Jacques Emery: bass; James McLean: drums.

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Sydney-based alto saxophonist/composer Sam Gill boasts the typical nerve that characterizes adherents of avant-garde jazz and new music. His Coursed Waters quartet, a Sydney/Melbourne collaboration featuring Novak Manojlovic on piano, Jacques Emery on bass, and James McLean on drums, play six Gill’s original compositions structured in such a way that spontaneous creativity is encouraged. Many Altered Returns is the quartet’s first recording and its explorative homogeneity makes pretty hard for us to pick a favorite track.

However, I can point out two related pieces that quickly got my attention: “Fortean Nights” and “Fortean Days”. Any type of phenomena was found in them, but the ‘Nights’ version is a searching, darker exertion with piano in the foreground and uncanny mallet drumming conducive to a more serious and stern expression. After some leisure rambles punctuated with bursts of intensity, a puzzling silence pulls the band into a different direction. Concerning its concluding phase, you can imagine a more muscled version of an Esbjorn Svenson’s groove, climaxing in a fluid stream in nine with shifting piano chords and well-rooted bass notes. On the ‘Days’ version, Gill steps forward, freeing up unorthodox phrases packed with Dolphy-esque intervals. He explores outside conventional bounds, making his alto upsurges gain further impact in the presence of Manojlovic’s inventive piano tapestries.

Although containing identifiable composed parts, the music feels like totally invented on the spot. The opener, “Nodap”, hinges some complexity in its variations and brings to my mind the nonconformism of players like Tim Berne and Loren Stillman. The saxophone joins the resilient pianism eked out with arpeggiated delights and brisk patterns, and both paint a story over a rhythmic template set out by jittery drum attacks and renewed bass rounds. An engrossing enigmatic passage is then activated, emerging with sparse, ominous bowed bass, saxophone impulsive shouts delivered with timbral variety, snare drum eruptions, and controlled piano whirls with some loose fragmented ideas thrown in the mix. The interaction turns out conversational as the tune advances.

As you may have guessed by now, melody is not a priority on this recording, but there’s moments of less friction in favor of more cerebral textures such as offered on “Staring Straight” and “The Turn”. The subtly shaded tones of the latter can be classified as anticlimactic, yet, both McLean’s lyrical brushstrokes with occasional cymbal legato and Emery’s bass oscillations between groundedness and motion, make it tensile.

Not exceeding expectations but not disappointing either, these six dense narrations rely heavily on atmosphere, championing ambiguity as the quartet probes labyrinthine paths with a positive attitude.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Turn ► 03 - Fortean Nights ► 05 - Fortean Days