MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
Frozen In Time
Frozen in Time is saxophonist, composer, and educator Nicholas Brust’s debut full-length album, with nine originals in a quintet setting. Brust did release an EP of original music in 2015 but has mostly stayed busy playing in NYC and serving as a educator at three institutions. Brust has had many great teachers at The Eastman School of Music and at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Among several they include Jerry Bergonzi, Ran Black, Donny McCaslin, and Miguel Zenon. He continues to study in New York with Will Vinson and Lage Lund. As you listen to his playing, acute ears will hear strains of Michael Brecker, George Coleman, Kenny Garrett and others.
Brust is an alto saxophonist joined by guitarist Ben Eunson (7 tracks), pianist Tuomo Usitalo (8 tracks), bassist Josh Allen and drummer Jay Sawyer, the latter two on all tracks. The opening “Work Ahead” is a bustling piece emblematic of the struggle and rewards for a jazz musician breaking into the scene in NYC. Brust is all over his instrument as the rhythm section pushed him soaring heights, before yielding space to Usitalo and Eunson who engage in lively dialogue and solo statements before Brust rejoins for the potent climax. The pace of the opener calls for some relief, found in “Hearts and Spades,” Brust’s attempt at a “pop Jazz” tune, beginning with a counterpoint line between the piano and the bass, and then gradually building in intensity both in the leader’s playing and with the guitar solo over the ostinato. “Brooklyn Folk Song” is based on feelings of inner peace, and, as such is rendered as a reflective ballad.
These first three selections reveal a kind of cinematic style of writing, consistent with the way Brust comments on the ideas behind the songs. Although Brust can unleash torrents of notes, like he does on the opener and in the title track, he generally has a rounder sound that is elegant, melodic, and not always predictable. He also makes great use of the piano and guitar, both chordal instruments, which he uses sometimes as a driving conventional rhythm section but especially with the guitarist’s use of notes, adds interesting colors and textures to the arrangements. All these elements are in play on the title track, including stirring interplay between the alto and the guitar.
“Hymnal For Those In Need” is a brooding collection of statements rendered emotively over some dark piano chords at the outset, with Brust hitting some deep, bluesy notes over more scattered piano notes in almost a Trane-like ballad approach. “Adversity” reads somewhat similarly to the opener, as it too is about the NCY music scene, influenced in part by George Coleman. Eunson solos animatedly, matching Brust’s brisk flowing lines. It’s one of the more modern jazz pieces with its shifting tempos, melodies and a surprising gentle ending, given its energetic start. “Something Like a Storm” is the shortest piece, and as you likely guessed, starts mellow, goes up-tempo, and ends in a furious blaze. Eunson lays out here and on the following track “Soliloquy in F Minor,” a different kind of writing, inspired by the R&B of Robert Glasper and the late Roy Hargrove, where the emphasis is groove and modern harmonics. The last tune, “A Shifting State,” also has a quartet, this time guitar instead of piano, as Brust presents a catchy melody over the top of shifting rhythms carried mostly by the bass.
Not only does Brust impress with his versatile playing, but he reveals a flair for composition that sufficiently nods to tradition without the usual predictable patterns, finding a nice balance with more modern jazz sensibilities. He delivers a colorful well-conceived debut that already has us anticipating his next recording.