Jeremy Udden: Folk Art

Stoked by Brandon Seabrook’s convulsive banjo, saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s ultra-spare 2009 album, Plainville, was such a strikingly original blend of jazz and Americana, a kind of Kind of Blue for the roots set, it has proved a difficult act to follow. In taking the music to its next stage, Udden’s more plugged-in followup, If the Past Seems So Bright, had some great stretches but also some diffuse ones. Refining his sound on Folk Art he again draws us in with his eerie understatement.

Most of the album consists of a suite performed by a quartet including Seabrook, bassist Jeremy Stratton and drummer Kenny Wollesen, with solo acoustic guitar interludes by Nathan Blehar and Will Graefe. The plaintive, atmospheric music draws intensity from its pairings: Alto saxophonist Udden’s sudden streaming of notes over Seabrook’s excitable picking on “Bartok,” Seabrook urgently plinking over Wollesen’s rolling figures on “Up.” “Our Hero” boasts a lively Ornette Coleman-like melody.

Music this rarefied risks becoming static, but Udden and company avoid monotony through their sharp textural contrasts, broad coloristic range and atmospheric command. A sotto voce saxophonist whose notes curl like smoke, he has the kind of steady, lyrical presence that recalls such icons as Jimmy Giuffre, Lee Konitz and Wayne Shorter. The final two tracks feature the band Plainville, with Seabrook on electric guitar, Blehar on acoustic guitar, Pete Rende on Rhodes, Elvind Opsvik on bass and RJ Miller on drums. They’re solid but uneventful, especially considering the excitement Seabrook has created elsewhere on guitar.