For the second installment of his Terminals trilogy, an ongoing ode to transit and migration, drummer Bobby Previte has convened a dream group. Although featuring musicians often found in electr(on)ic settings, Rhapsody unfolds a grand mise-en-scène by purely acoustic means. “Casting Off” and “I Arrive,” respectively, begin and end the album by threading the vocal delivery of Jen Shyu (whose erhu playing is another distinct color in this palette) through the netting of John Medeski’s piano and Fabian Rucker’s alto saxophone. As the center of the action, Shyu imbues Previte’s lyrics (a first for him) with theatrical punch, singing the role of an airplane traveler cycling through various stages of self-awareness until she reaches her unknown destination under cover of night.
That state of liminality—of hanging suspended between locations with only a thin layer of metal and composite between you and certain death—is beautifully rendered in Previte’s downright cinematic movements, each of which variously highlights the strengths of one or more of his bandmates. Medeski shines in “When I Land,” his precise syncopations seeming to chart every leg of the journey, and, in tandem with harpist Zeena Parkins, he renders the backdrop of tracks like “The Lost” and “The Timekeeper” while Ruckman carefully links his own chains of melody and abstraction. Hearing Parkins unplugged is an especial privilege; in this context, her crystalline beauty feels nearly all-consuming. Guitarist Nels Cline treads a parallel path and to highest effect in “All Hands,” in which his slide guitar sounds almost like a pipa. Previte himself completes the picture, playing an assortment of drums and percussion and, in “Last Stand/Final Approach,” autoharp and harmonica to boot. He treats himself no differently than his other musicians, letting his singular compositional voice ring over all, handing us a light to navigate the darkness in which he leaves us.
(This review originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)