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May 2008

Bobby Few
Lights and Shadows
Boxholder Records

Listening to Bobby Few play piano is like reading Ulysses: You can detect warm, familiar stories, but you have to make sense of the tendrils of abstraction covering them. Lights and Shadows, however, pares down some of the density in Few’s work, revealing more of his stunning musicality and swing.

The opening “Bells” is relentless, engaging free-jazz. It begins with light bells, immediately replaced by an approximation of a brick-sized-hailstorm. But Few’s firm left hand works a pulse packed with dissonance, but also power, as if suggesting that his unrestrained improvisation can’t overthrow his discipline.

The remainder is filled with moments in which the clouds part and pure, golden beauty enters. “Different Land” alternates between cascades of notes (evoking both wonder and confusion) and temperamental chord phrases straight from the conservatory, and is deeply rhythmic throughout. The 18-minute title track seems focused on atonal bombardments, but even these constantly suggest that rich themes are hidden among them; with four minutes remaining, the piece melts into delicate lyricism, full of sweetness and swing. Finally, having magnetized the listener for nearly an hour with both intensity and pathos, Few settles into the latter with the protean “Dreams,” a slow romance that’s sensitive even in its glissandi and crescendos.

The one slightly off-base element of the disc is the title: It should perhaps be Shadows and Lights, emphasizing the thick sonic walls that cast shadows and the small, pretty emanations that dissolve them. It might be Few’s best work yet.

Originally published in May 2008
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