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Quinsin Nachoff: Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind)

A review of the Canadian saxophonist's album featuring Nathalie Bonin and the Molinari String Quartet

Quinsin Nachoff: Pivotal Arc
The cover of Pivotal Arc by Quinsin Nachoff

Is it right to consider an album a success when you don’t get enough of the main artist? That’s the question some listeners will have with Quinsin Nachoff’s Pivotal Arc, an album that presents the Canadian saxophonist less as a soloist than as a composer.

Of course, anyone familiar with Nachoff will recognize that he’s always emphasized his writing—and through his work with Magic Numbers, the Horizons Ensemble, and Flux, he’s always brought considerable compositional chops to bear in his recordings.

But Pivotal Arc takes that to a different level entirely. The album’s first part is devoted to the violin concerto he wrote for Nathalie Bonin. Although Bonin’s part is wonderfully soulful, with plenty of raspy, resin-powered grit, it’s less violin-and-orchestra than violin-with-big-band, which would be fine for jazz fans except that there’s little audible improvisation.

Nachoff’s string quartet, which follows, seems even less jazzy. That’s not a complaint, as he writes strongly and naturally for strings, and there’s some really interesting use of counterpoint and portamento that makes the quartet seem like a larger, more flexible ensemble than it has been in the work of many 19th- and 20th-century composers. It’s great, but it probably would receive a more sympathetic hearing had it been the middle offering in an album of new string quartets by contemporary composers.

As such, the title tune is the only track here likely to appeal to jazz-only listeners. Like much of Nachoff’s previous work, it combines colorful ensemble writing with a crisply defined sense of rhythmic buildup. It also includes a longish, lyrical tenor solo by the composer. If this seems too little, too late, rethink your listening—what was all that composition if not a lengthy solo by Nachoff? If, on the other hand, it feels like icing on the cake, congratulate yourself on getting it, and be sure to hit replay once you’re done.

Preview, buy or download Pivotal Arc on Amazon!

J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.