Sonar with David Torn - Vortex

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Stephen Thelen: guitar; Bernhard Wagner: guitar; David Torn: guitar, live looping, electronics; Christian Kuntner: electric bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums.


The Swiss progressive quartet Sonar - guitarists Stephen Thelen and Bernhard Wagner, bassist Christian Kuntner, and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli - releases their fourth album, Vortex, in the good company of David Torn, an illustrious guest whose skills make the difference. Besides producing, the singular guitarist adds his shimmering electric spasms, live-looping, and electronic manipulation to reinforce the awesome blend of flavorful art-rock and minimal groove.

Stratified sonic layers are astonishingly controlled and prone to work denseness and steadfastness throughout. Heavily stimulating, “Part 44” throttles with an unflagging rhythmic undertow while exhibiting interlocking guitar instrumentations whose vibes relentlessly oscillate between the ethereal and the free-floating. Despite a certain featheriness in the groove, this composition, originally penned by Don Li, arrives sturdily anchored to the alternative side of the rock genre, investing in haunting atmospheres through gritty guitar effects that encompass distortion, vibratos, string scratching, and sustained piercing howls.

The first track whetted my appetite, but “Red Shift”, a prog-rock hymn with three distinct sections, made me rejoice. Obeying an odd meter, the piece throws a groovy punch with a strong funky flavor into the rock, stimulating robotic movements in our bodies. A posterior atmospheric passage wields bass pedals, drilling guitars trills, and crystalline harmonics. This spectral illustration shapes into a rock-solid figure with the introduction of noncommittal noise and the steering force of bass and drums. After all, these guys are diligent carvers of contemporary aesthetic forms and speak according to their genuine worldview.
Bearing a folkish semblance in the recurrent melody, “Waves and Particles” are supported by soft textures and adorned with Torn’s soaring waves and vertiginous manifestos. 

Juxtaposed ostinatos delimit “Monolith”, forming a sophisticated relation between time and space. Flaunting a funk-rock feel, the unhurried bass works in tandem with the drum chops, having entangled guitar explorations atop. Highly- combustible, the reaction ratchets up into the big flames of tonal creativity.

While the title track, a tritone harmonics composition, advances with a relaxed yet remarkably syncopated pulse before veering to an industrial rock-inflected marriage of bass and drums, “Lookface!” is a completely improvised, rock-oriented piece, which, not eschewing those powerful bass lines that hooks us in the groove, comes buoyed by the guitarists' collective work and propulsive rhythm.

Torn’s blasts, arches, and suspensions decisively enrich the sound of the quartet. Their mutual fascination for sonic textures is contagious, and I found myself exploring every minute of this well-weaved tapestry of polyrhythmic rock lustiness and groovy backgrounds. Vortex is a masterstroke that treats sound with prestige.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Part 44 ► 02 – Red Shift ► 06 – Lookface!

Wayne Escoffery - Vortex

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Lineup – Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophone; Dave Kikoski: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.


The exceptional language and broad range of expressiveness of London-born, New York-based saxophonist Wayne Escoffery can be reported as sagacious and enthralling. He has been using his bright ideas, frequently colored by a blazing timbre, not only to pump up works from Mingus Orchestra and Mingus Big Band, Eric Reed, and Tom Harrell Quintet, but also to bring his own albums into life, usually delivered in quartet or quintet formats.

A former protégé of Jackie McLean, Escoffery gathers a deluxe quartet for his new album, Vortex, his third Sunnyside release. To give wings to a collection of nine marvelous compositions, the saxophonist summoned the creditable pianist Dave Kikoski, the reliable bassist Ugonna Okegwo (a bandmate in Harrell's quintet), and the vibrant drummer Ralph Peterson.

Vortex, shaped in an urgent, socio-political way that aims to racism, bigotry, and hate in the US, is a tour de force and the title track exemplifies this better than any other track. It’s an attractive post-bop discharge whose kicking-and-screaming locomotion is absolutely stunning. The bandleader shows his magnificent soloing capabilities, showing an affinity to explore deeply and widely with irrepressible inventiveness and bristling provocation. Kikoski and Peterson don’t squander their chances to be noticed when called to intervene. 

Judgement” is a short Coltrane-influenced prayer of gratitude, trust, and abandonment that functions as an introduction to “Acceptance”, a piece penned and propelled by Peterson, who buoys it up with a rhythm impregnated of complexity and sophistication. Kikoski is the first to shine by swirling through intertwining lines, while Escoffery, eloquent as ever, establishes his momentum through extravagant interval combinations and expeditious melodic lines crammed with hot rhythmic figures.

February” cools down the impetus with its balladic intonation, yet, this slightly Latinized slow burner arrives exuberantly harmonized and reveals a conscious melodic orientation. Peterson’s exotic dry drumming extends to “The Devil’s Den”, where the bandleader brings into play a flickering, vertiginous soprano.

Tears for Carolyn”, a thriving song with a catchy melody, takes us to familiar soundscapes in a sort of McCoy Tyner catches up with Michael Brecker, while the swift ternary “To the Ends of the Earth” expresses a myriad of edgy rhythmic accentuations, attaining the perfect balance between group interdependence and individual ego.

In a more traditional line, the gently swinging “In His Eyes” displays dreamy horn unisons with the addition of guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Closing the record, “Baku” returns that post-bop vitality of Coltrane, Dexter, and Rollins.

Vortex, definitely a highlight in Escoffery’s career, starts the new year with lancinating energy and hope in a better world. It’s an engrossing exercise on tension and release, as well as on tightness and flexibility.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Vortex ► 03 - Acceptance ► 07 - To the Ends of the Earth