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Josh Sinton’s Rise in Productivity

The low-reed specialist has entered a purple patch

Josh Sinton
Josh Sinton (photo: Johannes Worsoe Berg)

Between December 2021 and October 2022, Josh Sinton will have released four albums on his Form Is Possibility imprint. Two feature him alone on baritone saxophone, while the others place him in the company of different bands. “I’ve never released this many records in such a short time,” he says via a Zoom call from his home in Brooklyn. “It just happened that this was material that I really cared about and have been working on—in the case of Adumbrations, you could argue—for 20 years.”

That album, which came out in June, places Sinton’s baritone, bass clarinet and (for the first time on disc) flute in improvisations with pianist Jed Wilson and drummer Tony Falco. The three met in the ’00s while attending the New England Conservatory and kept in touch over the years. Falco has recorded with both Sinton and Wilson, but Adumbrations marks the first time all three convened in a recording studio. Throughout six untitled tracks, they engage in deep conversations, from the Coltrane-esque rubato of the opener through some exploratory alto-flute pieces to waves of bass clarinet and piano on a sea of drum fills.

The three friends, all living in different cities, seized on the opportunity to record last summer when the pandemic seemed to be ebbing. They made no plans about what they’d play, relying on their rapport to guide them. “Somehow, regardless of all the changes that happened, you find where you meet,” Falco says, “where there’s a common thing happening. It feels like no one’s playing a shtick.”

Wilson agrees. “When we were in the midst of playing things, there was nothing but surprises. Somebody plays a certain thing and it evokes something in the other two and then they react and the same process happens reciprocally.”

Sinton calls Adumbrations his most consistently tonal work, and it’s hard to argue. In addition to work with Darcy James Argue and Nate Wooley, he has released albums like b., last year’s widespread solo baritone album. For krasa, a 2017 raucous solo set for contrabass clarinet played through a distorted bass amplifier, he took inspiration from the punk-rock bands that fueled his teenage years.

The music of Steve Lacy has factored into Sinton’s projects as well. The quartet Ideal Bread released three albums of Lacy music between 2007 and 2014, with Sinton’s baritone and Kirk Knuffke’s cornet bringing fresh nuances to the soprano saxophonist’s work. Steve Lacy’s Book of Practitioners, Vol. 1 “H”, out in August, features six solo readings of Lacy etudes performed by Sinton alone on his big horn.

Like the Adumbrations project, the album’s origin goes back two decades to the NEC, where Sinton prepared “Hustles” for a senior recital, with help from its composer. Lacy “could be very traditional in his notions of instruments’ roles in a group,” Sinton recalls. “So when I talked to him about doing ‘Hustles,’ he said … ‘I don’t know, man, if that’s something that you could do on a baritone saxophone.’ I did a pass through just playing the ink. He did one of these classic [furrowed brow faces]: ‘Hmm! I guess you can do it on the baritone!’” Even in a stark setting, the music shines, combining challenging melodies with Sinton’s astute improvisation.

Book of Practitioners will be followed by 4 freedoms, a new release by his group Predicate, which includes Tom Rainey (drums), Christopher Hoffman (cello), and Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet). Sinton attributes his recent productivity to rediscovering his reasons for making art over the last few years. As for what those reasons are, “I’m not there yet. It’s deeply personal,” he says, smiling. “Get back to me in about two years, and I might be willing to talk about what that is.” 

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio: Making Bones … 

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.