Courtesy: Big Dada Records
Rising jazz outfit Onyx Collective has become one of the most respected names in New York’s jazz scene over the course of the past few years. That is thanks to its live performances and its recordings, Lower East Suite One and Lower East Suite Two, whose free jazz style arrangements harken back to great works from the likes of Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler and others of that ilk. That fully improvised style most certainly played directly into the group’s growing popularity and has carried over into the group’s debut full-length studio recording Lower East Suit Part Three, which was released June 15. Interestingly enough, that fully improvised style was in fact fully composed, rather than performed on the fly here according to the band’s founder Isaiah Barr. Keeping that in mind, having composed a record that sounds anything but composed makes it a work that is well worth hearing. This is proven right from the album’s outset in its opener, ‘Onyx Court.’ It will be discussed shortly. ‘2AM at Veselka’ also serves to support that statement, and will be discussed later. The same can be said of the chaotic ‘Eviction Notice.’ Each song noted here shows in its own way, Onyx Collective’s clear harnessing of its improve style in a set format, and the success therein. All things considered, they join with the record’s other songs not noted here to make a record that jazz aficionados across the board should hear.
Lower East Suite Part Three, the finale of Onyx Collective’s Lower East trilogy (and the band’s debut full-length studio recording) is an interesting new offering from the New York-based jazz outfit that every jazz purist and aficionado should hear. That is due to the fact that this 34-minute record, which was fully composed, sounds anything but. Rather, its free jazz style compositions presented here sound so natural in their creation. ‘Onyx Court,’ the record’s opener, supports that statement in its own way. The nearly five-minute opus conjures thoughts of Onyx Court in New York’s East Village neighborhood through the subtle use of cymbals, sax and gently pulsing tom-tom hits. Right from the song’s outset, the rolls on the cymbal and the sax generate images of traffic flowing around the area, with the cymbal rolls creating a sense of a fade in effect, setting the scene for the musical story to be told. The gradual addition of the tom-toms and the controlled chaos of Barr’s sax work enrich that vision even more, eventually pulling listeners completely into the song. What’s really interesting about the whole of the work is, again, the control in the arrangement. Even as vivid as the imagery becomes through the song’s progression, the subtlety in how that image is musically painted keeps one listening to see where the song goes. It’s so subtle in fact that one hardly even realizes it has ended by the time it does end. That’s how powerful the arrangement’s subtlety is here. It is another testament to the group’s attention to every detail, and in turn, ability to harness its free jazz style even in a controlled setting and still create a strong album. It’s just one of the songs that serves to show the group’s talent and ability. ‘2AM at Veselka’ serves just as much to support that statement.
‘2AM at Veselka’ is, for those not familiar with New York, a reference to the Ukranian restaurant Veselka that is located on 2nd Avenue in New York City. The restaurant is a 24-hour operation, so it would make sense that if this is indeed what is being referenced here, the song’s title would fit. To that end, this song is one of the very few entries in this record that actually sound fully composed rather than freeform. It instantly conjures thoughts of a nicely lit, upscale club with a group such as Onyx Collective performing. As with so many of the songs included in this record, it hints at an influence from the free jazz greats of the 1950s and 60s throughout thanks to Barr’s work on sax and even the timekeeping and the sound editing. There is something about the airiness of the sound that really adds a certain charm to the arrangement. When that element is coupled with the bass work and the time keeping, the whole becomes a work that proves to be one of this record’s highest points. It, in turn, proves even more why the album in whole is such an interesting new offering from Onyx Collective. Of course it is still not the last of the album’s entries to serve that purpose. ‘Eviction Notice’ also serves to show why jazz aficionados across the board should hear this record.
‘Eviction Notice’ is a full free form style composition that is certain to grip listeners, again, because it was a fully composed work. Its frantic energy does a superb job of illustrating the mixed emotions that must go through someone’s mind upon coming home only to find that he/she has been evicted from one’s residence. This is done not only through the manic saxophone line, but in the drumming and even the bass line. One can only imagine that this song exhibits someone who’s mind is spinning with all kinds of thoughts in seeing that notice and then having to go about one’s day trying to make sense of the situation. The confused thoughts come across as something so powerful and overwhelming thanks to the group’s abilities. Again, it all feels entirely free form, yet was fully composed, making the whole just so engaging and enthralling. When it is considered alongside ‘Onyx Court,’ ‘2AM at Veselka’ and the rest of the record’s entries, the whole of this fully composed free jazz record becomes easily one of this year’s most intriguing new jazz offerings, and a work that every jazz purist and aficionado should hear even if only once.
Onyx Collective’s debut album (and its fourth overall recording – it has previously released two EPs and a live recording), is an interesting new offering that jazz purists and aficionados alike should hear at least once. That is due almost entirely to the fact that the record, while entirely composed, comes across with the same energy as the free jazz recordings that the group has previously released. To be able to maintain that feel while composing the songs ahead of time is a true testament to the group’s talents. And the likes of ‘Onyx Court,’ ‘2AM at Veselka’ and ‘Eviction Notice’ fully support that statement. Between them and the rest of the album’s offerings, the whole of the album proves to be one of the most ear-catching and intriguing jazz offerings to be released so far this year. It is available now via Big Dada Records. More information on Lower East Suite Part Three is available online now along with all of Onyx Collective’s latest news and more at:
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