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Ellery Eskelin: Vanishing Point

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For Vanishing Point, Ellery Eskelin’s first string-centered project, the tenor saxophonist opted to arrive at the studio without preconceptions, trust his new band and play it free. In fact, Eskelin claims to have hardly discussed this music at all before jumping in. If true, it makes it all the more remarkable how cohesive and delicate a recording this group turned out.

Like an old so-and-so-with-strings project, Vanishing Point places Eskelin’s tenor at the center of every tune; his long, veiny lines are shadows of melody, and he plays with a bold sound and a swagger that places this recording thoroughly in a jazz vein, despite the drummerless chamber instrumentation. Behind him, the string section plays a very complementary, ensemblelike role. When bassist Mark Dresser isn’t beating out the music’s irregular pulse, he melds with cellist Erik Friedlander and violinist Mat Maneri’s slithering long tones or brittle countermelodies, which cling to Eskelin’s tenor vines. There is more than a hint of noirish mood here, and Matt Moran’s understated vibraphone playing cinches it. On “Horizon Blue,” a tune so darkly evocative it almost implies its own shadowy plot, Moran’s vibes sound patiently, like the chimes of a clock perpetually marking midnight.

How Eskelin manages to turn out the number of beautifully contoured, concise musical statements he does without any preconceived structure is up to him to explain. But regardless of the method, Vanishing Point is fairly well stocked with not only shining moments, which many a free session does happen upon, but also entire songs that are ear-catching from end to end.