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Ari Hoenig: The Pauper & the Magician

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A magician “with darkness in his heart,” who plays cruel tricks on a pauper, sounds less like a scenario for a children’s story than a source for their nightmares. Yet that’s how drummer Ari Hoenig’s thematic album began life, as a tale he told to his young children. The six tracks on The Pauper & the Magician serve as chapters, with a synopsis of each in the liner notes. Hoenig and his quintet offer up progressive jazz as a soundtrack to the pauper’s journey out of the woods, as the story progresses to a hopeful ending.

Much like many traditional fairy tales-which weren’t always happy and carefree either-some of Hoenig’s music harkens back to Eastern Europe. The title track and “The Other” contain somber, foreboding melodies. When Shai Maestro takes a piano solo in the latter, one could almost expect to hear a cimbalom, the Hungarian dulcimer. Hoenig also relishes modern techniques such as ever-shifting time signatures and riffs that require a good deal from the performers. This creates strong interplay between Maestro, Tivon Pennicott (tenor saxophone) and Gilad Hekselman (guitar) in “I’ll Think About It.” But “The Other” gets bogged down with not one but two repetitive sections that last too long. Maybe it works for the good of the story (a film is being made to accompany it), but it feels excessive.

As the plot gets brighter, the music is more serene. Two ballads lead to the finale, which puts a second-line beat to the classic “You Are My Sunshine.” It makes an oddly quick wrap-up to the story, after the frenzy that came before. Of course, some fairy tales are like that.

Originally Published