With his latest outing Anti-Mass, trumpeter and composer Erik Jekabson takes his String-tet group through pieces of chamber jazz inspired by artwork from San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum.
Featuring Dayna Stephens (tenor saxophone), Mads Tolling (violin), Charith Prewardhana (viola), John Witala (bass), and Smith Dobson (drums, vibes), Jekabson’s group functions as a unit with a clear mind toward using space and tone to tell complete narratives.
To have Jekabson tell it, it was Cornelia Parker’s “Anti-Mass” installation that provided the main impetus for the album of the same name. “I knew immediately it was the piece for me to interpret musically,” he says. “…after sketching out some themes and ideas right there, I raced home to complete the composition, which ended up being about 15 minutes long.”
The 15:37 title track forms the fulcrum of the album. It is bookended by interludes and opens with a maddening flurry of sound. The burst breaks and things settle into dramatic pulses of sound and musical conversation. The piece appears broken into movements, one of which is presented with Witala’s unique bass approach and accentuated with lovely melody by Jekabson’s muted horn.
The aptly-titled “Park Stroll” gives the impression of doing just what the title suggests, with various instruments calling out like passersby and the strings laying a soft, grassy foundation. Dobson’s gait is elegant and certainly “stroll-worthy.”
In melting the worlds of visual art and chamber jazz together, Jekabson conveys the inherent complexity of his project – but his group also conveys the inherent incentives. “I found the process of composing music inspired by artwork and architecture so rewarding that I decided to create an entire album based on artwork in the DeYoung,” he says after recalling a performance of “Anti-Mass” at the museum.
“To Be DeYoung Again” expresses Jekabson’s fondness well. Opening with a glorious torrent of horns, the piece is underlined by Prewardhana and Tolling’s input. There’s plenty of melodic flourish, even if it does sound a lot like a 70s-era television show theme song at times.
Jekabson’s Anti-Mass is a convincing listen overall, an inspirational piece of work performed by a rousing String-tet and a composer more than willing to bridge the small but significant gap between the aural and the visual.