Window Silver Bright
New World Music
Alto/baritone saxophonist Andy Laster's music should not function as well as it does. After all, the compositionally minded Laster has provided his quintet, Lessness (named with a passage from Samuel Beckett in mind), with a matrix of constantly shifting, overlapping compositional styles and dense, polyphonic themes. Laster likes the odd juxtaposition, and to that end, he'll suture funk to a passage of chamber music, or moody noir to breakneck bebop. All of this would add up to a postmodern train wreck in less-talented hands.
It seems somewhat relevant also to mention that Laster spent a fair number of financially stable years as a member of Lyle Lovett's band, and maybe there he learned a thing or two about listenability, which Window Silver Bright certainly has. With a neat, orderly sound that keeps ears close even as the compositions take strange detours, the music is light-footed at practically every point and loaded with attractive themes and effective compositional turns and pivots.
Window Silver Bright also owes more than a modest share of its success to the balance it strikes between Laster's creative compositional architecture and the protean talents of his stellar band. Trumpeter Cuong Vu rips through Laster's rapid themes, singing out with a pure tone in the chamber music sections and, when it calls for it, plays with a distorted rasp, like the trumpet equivalent of a kicked-in guitar amplifier. Cellist Erik Friedlander easily handles the bass role in funk and bop but can just as easily trade spots with Laster's baritone and jump up into the center of the ensemble. His arco work on the dirge "Mito" is standout. Mallet player Bryan Carrott gives the group harmonic depth, and drummer Michael Sarin holds Laster's delicate music together.
The only misstep Laster takes is with the unconvincing "Halcyon Days," Window's single moment of irony and only sour note.