With its third album, New York's Pachora continue fine-tuning a spirited fusion of traditional Balkan and Turkish melodies and scales with jazz's improvisational edge. Ast represents the quartet's most polished, accessible and integrated effort, as the tricky yet buoyant dance rhythms, Middle Eastern modalities, melodically sophisticated soloing and seamless arrangements coalesce with a grace and finesse that erases the lines between jazz, pop and world music. Skuli Sverrisson, Jim Black, Chris Speed and Brad Shepik are among the most active, stylistically diverse players on the New York scene today-all but Shepik also work in Speed's excellent quartet with trumpeter Cuong Vu-yet, unlike many similarly-oriented musicians there, they display no hint of smug dilettantism.
Electric bassist Sverrisson and percussionist Black, who employs a beguiling mix of propulsive snare-and-bass drums with percolating hand percussion like the dumbek, masterfully navigate the complex time signatures-from the 11/8 of "Freaky Person" to the 15/8 of "Falevasinta"-emphasizing the kinetic infectiousness of the beats rather than empty virtuosity. Clarinetist Speed and electric saz-a twangy, long-necked lute-player Shepik ride over those slippery grooves with equally labyrinthine unison lines. Mostly they focus on pretty, meticulously crafted melodies, and while Speed does reach for the heavens as well as some harmonic ambiguity on tunes like "Maria Changed" and a stylistically-retrofitted cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," this project captures some of his most lyrical, straightforward playing.