The spiritual serenity we’ve come to expect from Andrew Sterman is pervasive here. However, also as we’d expect, the music is mostly devoid of self-indulgence or ethereal formlessness. Questing, rather than wafting, is the dominant motif.
“Open Circle” sets the tone: Apropos of the title, Sterman’s solo describes circles that link to one another, each never quite resolving but concluding with the suggestion of further possibilities in the next iteration. Mick Rossi’s piano solo, in contrast, is all shards and segments, pushing forward with off-time punctuations and the judicious insertion of brief silences. Richie Vitale’s flugelhorn sounds subdued, almost muffled, but within that velvet casing there’s fire: He unfurls crisp flurries, logical yet free-flowing and emotionally intense. Bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Tim Horner are fully participating ensemble and improvisational voices, lending texture and depth.
“The Well” echoes Kind of Blue musically (especially Rossi’s piano accompaniment) and thematically—as Sterman’s notes tell us, it represents “… a way of making music where events happen not on time but when they feel right in the group dynamic.” The disc’s centerpiece, though, is “Bullets Through an Open Sky,” which Sterman composed after viewing a bullet-ridden statue of a Tibetan holy figure that had been assaulted by Chinese soldiers. The intertwining of Sterman’s flute and Todd Reynolds’ violin evokes a classical, chamber-like feel; Rossi’s solo suggests Bill Evans at his most thoughtful and least lachrymose. Sterman’s flute has a clear, tubular tone which he enriches with timbral and emotional flexibility. Intentionally, no doubt, he couched this tone poem about both Eastern tradition and tyranny in a decidedly Western musical framework, employing his own cultural language to express his grief over the tragedies visited on an entirely different heritage, one which he also reveres.