Nate Lepine – Tenor saxophone
Nick Mazzarella – Alto saxophone
Clark Sommers – Acoustic bass
Quin Kirchner – Drums
Tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine’s debut as a leader, Quartet: Vortices, is mature, expressive work. This is not surprising, as Lepine honed his skills in the creative hotbed of Chicago’s improvised music scene for over two decades. From this artistic milieu, Lepine has chosen his sidemen, resulting in a cohesive group that sympathetically interprets and enhances his originals.
The disc is thematically unified, yet each track has enough uniqueness as to eschew redundancy. Eastern motifs lace the lyrical “Vortices,” as the sound of the alternating saxophones, together with bassist Clark Sommers’ dark reverberations and drummer Quin Kirchner’s rumbling beats, endow the tune with a primal spirituality. Lepine’s blustery, dramatic tenor lines complement alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella’s muscular and lithe phrases that embellish the melody with fiery poetry.
Equally intriguing is the passionate and haunting “Hennies,” where Sommers opens with an unaccompanied meditative soliloquy. Lepine extemporizes pensively, and with brassy tones he allows his notes to flow gracefully over the ensemble’s hypnotic cadence. Mazzarella echoes Lepine impatiently before taking center stage with an ardent and acerbic solo. Kirchner’s thunderous polyrhythms usher in the memorable conclusion.
Lepine’s bold and explorative compositions maintain their connection to jazz roots. The cinematic “Even Yeti’s Ready for Springtime” consists of crisp, angular boppish elements. Each band member in turn deconstructs these building blocks with intelligent virtuosity and infuses them with greater spontaneity. Meanwhile, on the energetic and captivating “Aye Lads,” Mazzarella blows with a blues-tinged, soulful swagger. Lepine takes center stage with equal indigo-hued intensity tempered with a contemplative, leisurely ease. The piece thrills with its combination of angularity and visceral emotion.
Quartet: Vortices is an elegant and compelling effort. It starts Lepine’s recording career as a leader with a singular brilliance. Hopefully, it will not be another 20 years for his next album to see the light of day.