Shibui: s/t

Shibui marks the full-length debut of the eponymous Bostonian sextet. Led by bassist and composer Tim Doherty, whose music filters out all but the most necessary light, the album nestles five numbered pieces in the simpatico auras of pianist Bradley Goff, clarinetist Céline Ferro, percussionists Derek Hayden (primarily on marimba) and Curtis Hartshorn, and drummer Kyle Harris. Welcoming a range of moods and shading in a smattering of guest percussionists and string players, it treads some obvious influences, from the precise flow-speak of Steve Reich to the modularity of Nik Bärtsch (on whose Ronin Rhythm Records the band’s follow-up release is slated to appear in June). More obvious is the hybridity of the fruit growing therefrom.

Within the introductory “1.3,” the spirit of the band’s name (a Japanese term encompassing nuances of austerity and understated quietude) reigns supreme, though multivalently enough to accommodate grace, nuance, and realism. Less like a needle to a record and more like a hand into a stream equalized by the measure of careful observation, it drops us carefully into a song already in motion. Amid the blissing out of piano and marimba, the bass clarinet adds earthier colors to the water. In a parallel universe, “1.1” and “1.4” are rendered in cooler dialects in which bass and drum lines pop, skip, and leap. Meanwhile, the marimba snakes across frozen ponds and other crystalline formations.

The set’s highlights happen to contain some of its darkest turns. Case in point is “1.5,” in which the starlit contributions of a glockenspiel only serve to emphasize the night that makes them visible, while a clarinet oozing lyrically above the trees coaxes tears from every branch as if they constituted an essential oil. The finality of “1.2,” given special urgency by bass and its reeded cousin, gives over to strings of such sublimity that the finish demands a restart.

While such music is too easily characterized as cinematic, there is also something undeniably photographic about it, breaking down moving images one precious still at a time. And if it may be called minimal, it is primarily because the sparse arranging allows listeners to weave between every instrument, picking up hints of fragrance along the way.

Shibui is available from Bandcamp here.

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