This is Epstein’s first album as a leader since Polarities in 2014 and his ninth album overall, so he has some pedigree. He also has a singular approach to creative improvised music that makes him a figure deserving wider recognition. Both as improviser and composer he avoids many of the more obvious hallmarks of contemporary jazz, and thus oversees a body of music that sounds just that bit fresher than most.
Pajaro Dunes is reflective, and while Epstein’s soprano playing doesn’t possess the distinctiveness of, say, Lol Coxhill or Steve Lacy, it does inhabit a space removed from the generic and is distinct. On electric piano Adam Benjamin is of the same order, able to realise the instrument’s potential.
Never Odd Or Even enables the band to mine a seam of acidic lyricism which sounds contemporary without coming on like a summary of various influences. Trumpeter Knowles possesses a bold brassy tone which makes its presence felt both in the finely wrought ensemble passages and in a solo in which he almost evokes the spirit of Kenny Wheeler.
Tepper opens with Epstein solo on alto and in a way goes on to summarise both the character of his music and the empathetic engagement of the band with his music. Here as elsewhere the result is relatively free of clichés and all the more compelling for that.
If you’re wondering what the music sounds like, it’s a mixture of the fusion-flavoured and rhythmic (often rock-based) with the rubato and freeish. When the beat is straight it’s sometimes redolent of the moody jams of Miles Davis from the late 70s on, with fluent post-bop solos from the leader, trumpeter Knowles and guitarist Strawn (shades of Rosenwinkel).
Conjunction; B320; Never Odd Or Even; Prescience; Tepper; Two Legs Bad; Bass Case; Pajaro Dunes (66.36)
Julien Knowles (t); Epstein (as, ss); Adam Benjamin (p, elp); Dave Strawn (g); Zack Teran (b); Miguel Jimenez Cruz (d). Mighty Fine Productions, Denver, Colorado. 16-17 August 2022.
Shifting Paradigm Records SP187