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April 2006

Quinsin Nachoff
Magic Numbers
Songlines

You'd think by now it would be it illegal for a string section to play on any recording that includes a drum set. But no, people keep trying it, usually to no good end. Saxophonist/composer Quinson Nachoff makes a better go of it than most, thanks mainly to the fact that he's got a manifestly huge imagination and writing chops to back it up. The weight of historical expectation weighs heavily against this project--in terms of timbre and phrasing, if nothing else--but Nachoff's imaginative string writing saves the day--sorta. There's still the same anachronistic disconnect that's existed since Norman Granz first tried to make Charlie Parker a pop star.

Drummer Jim Black and bassist Mark Helias do a good job on Nachoff's formally challenging compositions. The quartet is excellent, as well, especially during the stretches where Black plays a more coloristic role or lays out completely. The strings and rhythm sound better apart; they just don't blend well. Too often I try homing in on something hip going on in the strings, only to be annoyed and distracted by the drums. Nachoff's a capable soloist and a talented composer, but his questionable choice of instrumentation obscures his gift.

Originally published in April 2006
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