Jacob Varmus, Terminal Stillness

Continuity From Record to Record

Trumpeter-cornetist-composer-songwriter Jacob Varmus’ new album, Terminal Stillness is a suite-based recording stimulated by the dimensions of silence/inactivity and space. The recording features Jacob Varmus - trumpet, cornet, Kris Davis – piano, Nate Radley - guitar (1-6), Jacob Garchik - accordion (7 & 8), Ike Sturm - bass (1-6), Gil Smuskowitz - bass (7 & 8) and Brian Woodruff - drums and glockenspiela. The term, ‘Terminal Stillness’ is the result of searching for an antonymic term for ‘Perpetual Motion’ the name of the last track (by bassist Yoshi Waki) on my prior release, All the Things We Still Can Be. Varmus states, “I like that there’s an aspect of continuity from record to record, so it’s all one stream and part of the same development. Or rather I preferred here to highlight that continuity rather than attempt to present the illusion that each new project is a totally new beginning without connection to the past.”

For Jacob Varmus, music is a world with movement. Varmus explains, “What I found in the process of organizing the suite is that movement and activity in music are insuppressible, and that thusly the two terms are not so much in opposition to each other as one in the same.” Both as a composer and trumpeter, Varmus has a focused energy that brings his musical activity to a cohesive whole.

Terminal Stillness is best described by Varmus, “The suite began while I was waiting for one part of a recording session to end at the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford before it was my turn to join the recording session as a sideman. Being a Sunday, there were no students around so I went down a long empty corridor, where only reverberations of my footsteps could be heard. I found a piano in a cramped practice room, sat down, and listened for the sounds to emerge from this silence/stillness.

The concept of this album is slow motivic development. I wanted to break free from the fast-paced New York jazz world where such development, if ideas are even connected, often happens so quickly you can’t absorb it, or breathe it in.”

“Terminal” begins the suite with a deeply emotional melody that brings a sense of emotion that calls upon the inner meaning of life experiences. The listener can instantly hear that with Varmus, melody always comes first, as a composer and improviser Varmus always states his music with a strong melodic line. In “Stillness” the music is quite active, but Varmus gives his compositions titles that evoke scenes, suggesting to the listener that he has a definite emotion that he is conveying. The focus of the group is certainly heard in this selection, the prevailing themes of being still and listening to one another is evident throughout the track, with fine performances by Varmus and pianist Kris Davis.

It is clearly evident the entire group balances the collective sound, but it is also unmistakable that Varmus is the driving force of the ensemble. His trumpet is the glue that binds the players and compositions. Pianist Kris Davis and guitarist Nate Radley intuitively reflect and respond to Varmus’ horn, while drummer Brian Woodruff creates a supportive push and pull underpinning each composition with balance and strength.

In lesser hands a long-form program tends to be better sampled in bits, or as interludes - but in this case the chemistry of each musician working together, feeding off one another, and creating more than they would by themselves, creates something quite unique and the sum of each musicians role is the greater sum. Terminal Stillness truly is a full-fledged suite meant to be savored in its entirety, so the listener can truly be imbued with the composer’s vehicle and message.

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H. Allen Williams