Rotterdam and Berlin are the second and third of five suites clarinetist Aaron Novik has released in 2019, comprising music he’s developed over the past few years and umpteen projects. These installments—both specifically inspired by Novik’s European adventures in summer 2014—come in at 17 and 28 minutes, respectively. To say they’re worth your time is not to say much. As it happens, though, that can’t be said: One is too short, and the other too long.
Rotterdam is the too-short one, and it’s maddening. There is no improvisation on its six tracks; that fact, along with its instrumentation (Novik’s clarinet, Kasey Knudsen’s sax, Marie Abe’s accordion, Dina Maccabee’s violin, Lisa Mezzacappa’s bass, and Jamie Moore’s drums), makes it closer to contemporary chamber music than jazz. But it doesn’t work as chamber music either. There are themes but no development, and precious little variation; just short melodic statements and frankly bland passagework to pad them out. (The closing “Piano” is barely even a statement, just some long, tenuously connected notes over a drone.)