Patrick Cornelius’ Acadia – Way of the Cairns
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4766. CD review by Alison Bentley)
Stone cairns mark where you’ve been on the trail, and remind you of where others have been before you. Saxophonist-composer Patrick Cornelius has recorded nine pieces that point back to past jazz musicians but also take the music forward in a compelling way. Cornelius is based in New York, but loves walking with his family in Acadia National Park on the Maine coast. The tracks evoke the emotional experience of being there through intricate arrangements and superb playing.
Way of the Cairns opens with a sense of exploring the unknown. There’s a Celtic feel in the piano and bass drones, and Scottish swirls in the melody, mixing modern jazz with folk. The piece is about climbing Great Head Mountain and alto sax and piano (Estonian Kristjan Randalu) drift like mist across the arrangement. There’s an afro-funk section as the terrain changes, and 8s traded in an exciting exchange of ideas. Star Party, inspired by a meteor shower, is joyful with a playful metre. Like Jarrett’s Country, or perhaps one of John Taylor’s folk-influenced compositions, it has a relaxed but yearning feeling. Cornelius has described drawing on European jazz as well as American, and his skipping grace notes strongly recall Jan Garbarek at times. His solo has a clear direction like a vapour trail across the sky as the tempo and emotion build. The memorable melody returns triumphantly.
The next tune seems to run energetically up and down Blueberry Mountain, carefree, daring to see who reaches the top first. The sax has some of Eric Alexander’s tough exuberance but keeps the Celtic feel among the loose funk and Luxembourgian Paul Wiltgen’s explosive cymbals. Seawall Sunrise describes a “rocky shoreline in Acadia”; it begins and ends with gorgeous spindrift piano over bass drone and cymbal surf. The sweet tune takes definition over a slow, untethered Latin groove; high searching notes settle into focused phrases echoed by the piano. The attention to detail in every sax note as well as the arrangements is very engaging. Darkest Night is full of movement as Michael Janisch’s supple bass theme and pensive solo stretch across urgent piano/sax arpeggios. Subtle dynamics bring each instrument to the fore. The night is an increasingly forceful presence; the sax tone is darkly Coltrane-like among thundering piano and drums.
Randalu’s Valse Hésitante is like an aural illusion – it’s a delicate Satie-esque waltz with added beats that give the sense the tune is pausing to hold its breath before stepping forward. The sax glides calmly but with tense harmonies over the lilting piano chords. In contrast, Personal Beehives swings freely, the melody buzzing round in different directions with darker harmonies emerging in neat piano/bass counter-riffs. The sax sounds cool and Konitz-like but is emotive and full of detailed inflections. Boppish arcs and trills swarm through the piano solo. On the Precipice starts with a Jarrett-esque gospel-rock feel, but soon moves closer to the edge. Careering through lots of stops, the tune gets into some more dangerous harmony. A thrilling funky drum solo builds to a wild coda.
Wiltgen’s Ten Years Later has a slow sense of homecoming, a journey’s end. The band gigged a lot in the 2000s (as the TransAtlantic Collective) and this album is their reunion. As Cornelius digs into the blues, it’s a beautifully fitting conclusion to an album where the musicians sound completely at home with each other. It repays much listening – and it’s good company on long walks.
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