Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
The systematic annoyances originating from delayed mail are a crucial characteristic of Italian routine, in particular as far as reviewing records is concerned. This explains the reason for which only recently I was able to take pleasure in listening to the brilliant Stratostrophic (Clean Feed) by the Empty Cage Quartet. The group consists of four youngsters whose mind is filled with serious ideas, expounded through eleven tracks that mix a multiplicity of coordinates and influences; essentially, their style can be placed in a province bordering on present-day jazz and rather curbed improvisation, with hints to Charles Ives-like superimpositions of different conjectures and junctures. Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet) and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn) are the composers, while percussionist Paul Kikuchi and double bassist Ivan Johnson build their contribution upon everything you would look ahead to by a technically dextrous rhythm section.
When an ensemble needs not to recur to metaphoric paraphernalia and short-lived tricks, we immediately realize that the direction is right. Quite often during the playback I found myself thinking of charts made of very long lines and exploded views, music leading to places where expectations are met without fretfulness and transitions are clearly visible. This sense of structural intelligibility, in conjunction with an evident respect for tradition, is the most considerable attribute of the album. We glance at the young faces of the artists in the inner sleeve’s picture, compare them with the maturity shown by these fairly challenging pieces, and all of a sudden the perspectives of jazz-derived languages look pretty bright, provided that one doesn’t start daydreaming about groundbreaking visions and on-the-spot innovations.