Bobby Previte – Rhapsody / Terminals Part II: In Transit
(Rare Noise Record RNR090. CD Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
We haven’t heard so much of Bobby Previte in Britain in recent years. In the 1990s he was a regular visitor with various of his ensembles, particularly through the much missed Contemporary Music Network tours, but his profile has been fairly low here since those days, apart from a short tour last year with Charlie Hunter. In the USA, however, he continues to be very active. In 2015 he was awarded the Greenfield Prize for Music which enabled him to spend time at the Hermitage Artist Retreat on the Gulf of Mexico writing music for a three-part series based on the experience of travelling. The overall title of the series is Terminals and the first part with the title Terminals Part 1: Departures consisted of five concertos written for the percussion group SO Percussion. Rhapsody is the second part and focusses on the theme of transit and migration. It is played by an amazing sextet with key players on the New York scene: vocalist Jen Shyu, guitarist Nels Cline, pianist John Medeski, harpist Zeena Parkins and also the young alto saxophonist Fabian Rucker from the thriving Austrian jazz scene.
One interesting aspect of the group is that Previte asked the musicians to concentrate on the acoustic side of their instruments, so Medeski plays acoustic piano rather than organ, Parkins plays the traditional harp rather than the electric harp, etc. Each player is featured heavily on one track, while Jen Shyu is featured on all but two tracks.
This is apparently the first time that Previte has written lyrics; they develop the themes of transit and migration very effectively, and Shyu delivers them with great conviction and a welcome clarity, but I do find the words a little awkward at times. Alto -saxophonist Rucker fits into this otherwise American ensemble with great authority playing solos that provide a strong jazz feel.
It is, however, the quality of the writing that impresses the most. Previte has always written for different kinds of ensemble from one formed to fulfil a commission for the Moscow State Circus to the high energy rock-influenced Coalition of the Willing. He has often drawn on non-jazz genres in his composition and here, taking advantage of the acoustic nature of the ensemble, he has written some very attractive melodic pieces that act as a suite of music that brings out the themes. On many of the tunes Previte makes use of repeated figures reminiscent of minimalism, but the movement in and out of the solo and duo passages adds variety. The interplay between pairs of instruments, harp v. guitar, sax v. harp etc., that occurs throughout is a particular strong feature, creating movement between the composed sections and the improvised playing.
This is a truly distinctive album that blends very effectively the writing with the individual voices of a very powerful ensemble.