Zack Clarke - Mesophase

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel: Zack Clarke: piano, electronics; Charlotte Greve: saxophone, clarinet, flute; Chris Irvine: cello; Nick Dunston: double bass; Leonid Galaganov: percussion, waterphone, shakuhachi.


Pianist Zack Clarke, an inveterate explorer who likes to push musical boundaries by distilling his creative ideas into new music, has a new album where electronic and acoustic elements converge in an attempt to sonically portray daily life in New York City. Mesophase, the follow up to Random Acts of Order (Clean Feed, 2017) is another challenging recital given in the company of other artisans of the textural invention: Chris Irvine on cello; Charlotte Greve on saxophone, clarinet, and flute; Nick Dunston on double bass; and Leonid Galaganov on percussion, waterphone, and shakuhachi.

The majestic opener, “Curtains”, shows the group immersed in thematic abstraction with entangling segments that meld contemporary chamber jazz, modern classical, and traces of world music with decorative electronic sounds. The initial fluctuations between flute and cello generate some forlornness that vanishes when the pianist incurs in a faster, bolder and continuous countermove that can be described as a blizzard of patterned replications.

Generative” ruminates till the end, swimming in contemporary classical waters whose reoccurring streams have the sonic oceans of Messiaen and Reich as sources. Here, the drummer’s sketchy drawings are palely colored by the clarinet.

A rich cello sound resonates in consonance with Clarke’s pastoral pianism on “Beggar”, where the procedures feel a bit more grounded and less uncertain.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” came to my mind as soon as “Tilted” began. Lots of tension was put in the harmonic progression, taking us to an avant-garde realm that we recognize. Still, the exploration continues with other creative aesthetics.

Reticence” carries a jazzy vibe that comes specifically from the often-motivic piano, ably supported by the responsive bass/drums accompaniment. This frenzied clarity mutates gradually as Greve takes over on flute.

Frontier” sounds like a cogitative chamber crusade enlivened by a pulsating bass pedal, entering in a dulcet pianistic suspension in its concluding section. A similar unbind sentiment can be extracted from “Bridge”, an Arvo Part-ish exercise that glows with saxophone lines over the ebbs and flows created by the pianist.

Density and space permeate the conceptual Mesophase, which is not for every casual listener. Still, you might be able to find profundity in complex passages leading to further discoveries.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Curtains ► 06 - Reticence ► 07 - Frontier

Zack Clarke - Random Acts of Order

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Zack Clarke: piano, electronics; Henry Fraser: double bass; Dre Hocevar: drums.


Emergent pianist Zack Clarke is constantly searching for brilliant textures to be delivered at the perfect moment. He does this by linking up creative melodic lines with titillating voicings and instinctive intervals with the intention of firstly build up tension and then release it. Operating with his reliable peers, bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Dre Hocevar, Clarke opens up new musical paths using both simple and complex processes.

Random Acts of Order, his debut album comprising only originals, holds a suggestive title since the impromptu lives within a well-founded structural order. This doesn’t mean that exploration is blocked. On the contrary, Clarke explores with logic in order to establish clear perspectives of the scenarios he imagines.

The opening piece, “Before The Cause” is sunken in abstract minimalism and wrapped in noisy shadiness. 
Act 1” is a daintily articulated piece that brims with shifting symmetries and sparkling motivic figures installed on top of a controlled agitation mounted by bass and drums. While Fraser keeps alternating between bowing with mystery and plucking with a groovy pulse, Clarke hits the keys with speedy eloquence to form whirls of sound, often triggering ascendant chordal movements that look back at Chick Corea’s chapter of Now He Sings Now He Sobs.

This music concept is interrupted when we listen to “Elements”, an abstract, atmospheric composition evincing static noise in the background and emulating watery sounds that quickly transports us to humid and swamping landscapes.

Static tension is also served up in “Act 2”, a spinning emancipation of self-expression that penetrates our ears with captivating exclamations and melodic zigzags.

Conspicuous modern classical movements belong to “Low Gardens”, a composition that merges different musical backgrounds to define obfuscatory scenarios enhanced with dramatic poise. On this tune, Clarke’s classy pianism and prodigious facility unravel consecutive piano trills that, joining the ominous bowed bass and effervescent drumming, become exceptional points of departure for free rambles built with patience and heading nowhere in particular.

Up On The High” is an eventful joyride that starts with advancing piano drifts á-la Paul Bley, responsive rhythms, and timid bass screeches, but evolves into an unflinching, proud groove that supports well-versed pianistic textures. Even relying on particular rigid ideas, expectation never abandons the trio’s juncture. 
The session ends with “Dee”, a passive yet striking solo piano piece that captivates through beautiful if morose melodic passages.

Contemporary jazz lovers who still don’t know Zack Clarke have in Random Acts of Order a great opportunity to visit strange musical territories and find out how prominent structural alignments sustain adequate amounts of dynamic exploration and experimentation.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Act 1 ► 05 - Up On The High ► 07 - Dee