Quinsin Nachoff: Magic Numbers

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.