Tal Gur – Under Contractions [TrackList follows] – Internal Compass 888174808079, 44:04 [9/16/14] ***1/2:
(Tal Gur – straight alto and soprano saxophone; Eyal Maoz – electric guitar; Sam Trapchak – upright double bass; Nick Anderson – drums)
Music can be used for many things. Israeli-born, New York City-based saxophonist Tal Gur understands. He chose a career in music therapy, which incorporates music into clinical therapy, and other disciplines, in a health care environment. And on Gur’s third release, the improv/abstract, 44-minute Under Contractions, he utilizes his compositions and the improvisational unity of his quartet to help encapsulate and express his ongoing life, including what stimulates him, and the significant events Gur has faced, from birth to death. Under Contractions has been issued for digital download and in physical compact disc format; this review referring to the CD version. [The Amazon link is only for the MP3 download…Ed.]
Fear and hope circle through the ten tracks, which alternate from under a minute to over six minutes. Gur’s material has a thoughtful thematic route, but that journey did not commence with clear delineation. In fact, he states in the liner notes that “a heavy cloud of zero inspiration” was what he started with. However, he turned that block into a creative extension. The results include three connected pieces linked to regeneration. There is the overture cut, “ReGenesis,” a condensed, small-scale opener which accommodatingly introduces the band: Gur on alto and soprano sax; electric guitarist Eyal Maoz (who has issued CDs on the Tzadik label); upright bassist Sam Trapchak; and drummer Nick Anderson. The five-minute “ReGenesis Day #3” echoes the first tune, including an impression of hesitation earmarked by Anderson’s dipping and rising percussive effects, Maoz’s guitar flourishes, which range from congenial to caustic, and Gur’s roaming sax lines, which shift or deviate in different directions, but hold a specific shape and course. The third related number is the album-closing “ReGenesis Dawn #7,” which has a sense of new prospects, a rebirth of sorts. Gur’s soprano sax suggests restoration or renewal, while Maoz’s guitar runs mirror a corresponding reclamation curvature.
Birth is another subject which enfolds the album. The dramatic title track reflects Gur’s psychological position as he witnessed his pregnant wife going through the physical and mental changes associated with labor. There’s the aesthetic quality of beauty, enunciated via Gur’s heightened alto sax notes; there’s anxiety, as communicated through the kinetically aggressive bass and drum patterns; and there’s fear, conveyed by Gur’s screeching sax noises. A parallel piece is “Waiting for a Birth,” an articulate and symbolic ballad which paints an aural picture of the arrival of Gur’s child. It’s easily the most perfect track on the album. The final selection of the Gur new-family trilogy is the post-bop cut “Time for Night,” which eloquently displays the elation and exhaustion of having a newborn at home, when nocturnal occasions are the only time when a musician can quietly write, practice and create.
Gur has lived in an area of the world where warfare, conflict and eminent disputes can have devastating consequences. That is the origin for tunes seething with struggle. “Missiles Up Missiles Down” has a construction which alters from straightforward agreement, to musical skirmishes where sax, guitar, drums and bass head right at each other, like combatants flinging spears or nuclear weapons across borders. The opposite of Gur’s aforementioned “Time for Night” is the explorative “Time for Fight,” which wages with discord. Gur’s sax tone ricochets and writhes; Maoz’s guitar is equally full of fracas; and the bass and drums maintain a machine-gun pacing. There’s no discernment of respite during this high-speed scuffle. Under Contractions is a record of free expression, and of improvised and somewhat-composed music, which should appeal to fans of existential rather than traditional jazz, the kind of music distributed by likeminded labels Cuneiform and RareNoise. For those who want more information, Gur explains the foundation of his project, the collaborative nature of his music, and the incidents which influenced particular thematic material, during a short, online promo, which also has some studio session snippets.
TrackList: ReGenesis; Time Tuning Day #2; ReGenesis Day #3; Under Contractions; Waiting for a Birth; Missiles Up Missiles Down; Time for Night; Time Tuning Afternoon #5; Time for Fight; ReGenesis Dawn #7