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Reviews: Lingua Franca - Peter Epstein, Brad Shepik, Matt Kilmer

Reviews: 1

Site review by ramesh June 30, 2008
Performance:   Sonics:  
Easy-sounding, mildly diverting contemporary fusion music is a staple of the contemporary globalised metropolitan music scene. However, memorable high quality compositions in this genre, repaying multiple hearings, are rarer beasts. This release is a triumphal example of the latter. The works [ nine compositions, with a bonus track available only on the CD layer ] are ebullient, composed from quite simple melodic cells, but with interesting and more challenging developmental sections. This SACD should appeal to jazz, pop, easy listening, folk and light contemporary classical fans. and have websites with further information. The guitarist Brad Shepik has performed in several musically eclectic ensembles, especially those with Eastern European/ Slavic influences. The saxophonist Peter Epstein is also the son of a saxophonist, and is a teacher at the University of Nevada in jazz and improvisational music. The percussionist Matt Kilmer uses a vast array of different instruments. The almost non-existent liner notes do not identify his instruments.

The title, 'Lingua Franca', is an inspired choice, for it alludes to the common language of most world music : drawing on the improvisational aspects of these disparate musical traditions. The use of devices such as drones, ostinatos, short solo riffs and so forth injects a compositional freedom which enables various musical influences to be run convincingly into a free standing compositions. The first composition, 'Two Door', sounds vaguely Hindustani due to the incorporation of Indian percussion [ probably an Indian gypsy drum ], although there is no evidence of raga compositional methods. The second composition, 'Miro' is jazz-blues in style, and 'Emerald', the third, sounds Celtic, although the difference between this and something from 'the Corrs' is that Epstein and Shepik are as musically interesting as the Corrs aren't. Subsequent works have traces of klezmer, reggae, classical avant-garde, and Cuban. Others elude my taxonomic skills.

The avoidance of a standard drum kit or double bass plays a large part in the world music ambience of these pieces. It removes the timbres from a classic jazz ensemble. It also enables more soaring melodic lines, free of the cultural anchoring in North American jazz. Shepik and Epstein have complementary playing and/or compositional styles. The saxophone lines are smooth and lyrical, eschewing the stabbing, rather showy declamations of a Jan Gabarek. The guitarist has a crisper, nervier, style; preferring to play short memorable melodic cells which often take the place of a drum kit's rhythmic underpinning. To say that the melodic germs from both the saxophonist and guitarist are simple isn't to deprecate their compositional effectiveness. Anyone who's attended some 'world music festivals' will know that most of these eclectic bands have well-meaning compositions, high on cultural earnestness, but low octane in terms of simple melodic memorability. Many of the motivic cells in this album stay in the mind after the disc is finished. One suspects that these artists collaborated on many more compositions which were sieved to retain a core of strong items.

The recording is apparently on analogue tape and mixed to stereo and 5.0, with some dubbing in a few tracks. There certainly aren't any audible PCM digital artefacts. The sound has a mellow presentation, generally without much front-to-back imaging, but in itself is aesthetically appropriate for merging all the instruments into an integrated, tight soundscape.