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Avram Fefer Quartet: Testament (Clean Feed)

A review of the saxophonist/composer-led quartet's highly personal album

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Avram Fefer Quartet, Testament
The cover of Testament by the Avram Fefer Quartet

Avram Fefer cuts a raffish figure on this quality quartet date for the left-tilting Clean Feed imprint. Galvanized by a rhythm section well-practiced in the acts of rangy groove-making and barbed gesticulating, the saxophonist delivers a statement that’s raggedly charming, true to form and, at times, deeply moving.

The trio of Fefer, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Chad Taylor proved to be a splendid match on 2009’s Ritual and 2011’s Eliyahu. Not surprisingly, adding Marc Ribot to that mix here only serves to strengthen and stretch what this company is capable of doing. The much-admired guitarist’s pointed work on the focused yet feverish “Dean St. Hustle” heightens the song’s intensity while mirroring Fefer’s posture. Ribot’s adoption of the title track’s shred-to-the-spirits aesthetic helps make for a testament of true belief, and his Americana-laced lines on “Parable” play to the song’s embrace of the bleary-eyed, beautiful, and even bold.  

This particular model of downtown sound draws on frayed lyricism, cycling African rhythms, Semitic scenery, and a jostling camaraderie that’s surprisingly sympathetic and inclusive. Within the melting-pot mold, Revis and Taylor foster creative expression while crafting beds built on absorbing cross-rhythms. Sometimes these setups are the bedrock for an extended journey, as with “African Interlude.” But elsewhere—on “Magic Mountain,” in particular—firm grounding comes and goes, allowing uncertainty to occasionally rear its head.

The band’s artful blend of rejoicing and roughhousing is further evidence of a catholic design, but the music they’re playing is highly personal. “Wishful Thinking,” a vehicle in 5/4 bolstered by Revis’ insistent bass, will forever be tied to Fefer’s father, who died as the record neared completion. And “Testament,” logically, sums up roots, nurturing influences, and the history each one carries.


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Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.