Bassist/composer James Ilgenfritz is rare for running lines of transfusion between jazz and classical bodies while keeping them equally alive. In that spirit, he presents this chamber program of formidable subtlety and feeling that travels comfortably between (and beyond) genres.
The combinations of instruments provide constant fascination, starting with the pairing of violin (Pauline Kim Harris) and double-pedal bass drum (Alex Cohen) in Terminal Affirmative. By turns primal and futuristic, this music frays the edges of such contradictions to the point of unity. It’s worth noting that this piece is based on observations of Ovid, who emphasized the power of water droplets to erode stone over time as an organic illustration of persistence. This philosophy seeps into everything that follows, but especially in Apophenia III: The Index. This trio for piano (Kathleen Supové), guitar (James Moore) and violin (Jennifer Choi), based on a short story by J. G. Ballard, asks the musicians to build a grander narrative out of through-composed fragments. Thus, what first seem to be aphorisms take on a coherence all their own.
Apophenia IV: A Bell In Every Finger sets poetry by the late Steve Dalachinsky (on Muhal Richard Abrams and Cecil Taylor, no less) for baritone (Thomas Buckner), piano (Joseph Kubera), percussion (William Winant) and Ilgenfritz himself. Buckner lends his falsetto to this garden of delights and darkness, contrasting hauntingly with the album’s masterstroke: How To Talk To Your Children About Not Looking At The Eclipse. Here flutist Margaret Lancaster breaks down breath to its most linguistically pure elements and makes them sing.
Tempting as it is to call this album intermittently assaultive, it is perhaps better described as possessed of a fierce intimacy. As in the concluding Fanfares For Modest Accomplishments for two violins (Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris), it uses brevity to bring our attention to expanse. Such dichotomies are difficult to maintain, but these musicians do just that with unwavering strength.
(This review originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)