Nicholas Brust – Frozen in Time
You know a Jazz artist is young when they name their influences as Michael Brecker, George Coleman, Robert Glasper, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Frank Strozier, and Bob Berg. Not a Coltrane or Hawkins or Parker in sight. And that’s all right with me.
Nicholas Brust has released his debut full-length album, Frozen in Time, and the influences shine through in his own unique voice. He is by no means derivative or imitative, rather he takes a vocabulary from those great artists and composes his own message.
With Brust are Ben Eunson on guitar, Tuomo Uusitalo on piano, Josh Allen on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums. And these guys cook.
His first recording as a leader was the 2015 EP Brooklyn Folk Tales and he picks up right there with the opening piece, Work Ahead which Brust describes as, “my musical representation of my experiences with that combination of struggle and reward” of taking on the Jazz scene of New York City. The composition and performance invoke images of the fast and furious, rough and ready lifestyle of the Jazz capital of the world. Brust nails it on the alto sax and Uusitalo anchors it with the solid piano. Always a fan of Josh Allen and Jay Sawyer, I loved how they team up to drive the rhythm section. Eunson’s guitar is lively and precise.
Hearts and Spades is Brust’s attempt at a “Pop Jazz” tune. He shoots, he scores. The gorgeous piano and guitar introduction prepares for the coming of Brust’s soulful, even melancholic, sax. It definitely moves into a Pop sound without ever losing its jazziness. Beautiful bass work from Josh Allen. As the piece draws to a close, Eunson’s guitar takes over with beautiful runs and riffs.
Brooklyn Folk Song is a different take on New York City, with Brust describing his time spent at Prospect Park and the “feelings of inner peace” he felt when being there. The pacing is indeed reminiscent of a runner’s pace among the falling Autumn leaves and crisp air. Brust’s alto sax paints the beautiful image on a canvas prepared by the rhythm section. Pay attention to Sawyer’s drumming in the middle section followed by Eunson’s cool guitar. Sawyer again closes the song beautifully.
Frozen in Time, the title track, is inspired by Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. The idea is that time slows down with the absence of heat. In that million-selling book, Rovelli tackles the essentials of the problems in physics and addresses them with the simple erudition of a Stephen Hawking or Richard Feynman. Sure, enough, the hotter the musical atmosphere, the quicker the time. A smoking introduction to physics in Jazz. Uusitalo is steady on the piano as Brust explores the space around with atomic precision.
Hymnal for Those in Need is best described by Brust himself. He writes, This song is inspired by the many injustices in the world; Trump’s rise to power and the general global regression of politics that occurred in 2016; those that live each day without knowing where their next meal is coming from; the children who had to endure separation from their parents at the border between the U.S. and Mexico; the misinformation that contributes to a sharply divided political climate that dupes otherwise intelligent and/or good people into supporting ideals that are not in the best interest of 99% of the people. This is supposed to be a song comprised of songs; hence the word “hymnal” instead of “hymn.”
The song is introduced by three notes that are reminiscent of Coltrane’s Naima but in a different key. From there, Brust weaves a wonderful tapestry that is indeed hymnic. From that collective introspection, it moves on to more of a lament, and then to a hopeful resolution. Stunning.
Adversity continues Brust’s description of and respect for the New York City music scene. The difficulties, rewards, and heartbreak of the City’s Jazz life is well-envisioned here. Brust and Eunson are tight in the exposition with a close-held bass line until Eunson gets a sweet solo on the guitar. Brust’s solos and leads are electrifying. The song moves to conclusion with a soulful three-note motif from Brust, accompanied by exquisite piano from Uusitalo. Gorgeous stuff.
Something Like a Storm is just likes it sounds. Soft beginnings which turn into a stiff breeze before the onslaught that eventually fades out. Brust introduces the piece with steady, even serene, theme before the wind picks up with Eunson’s guitar. A return to the intro is kicked up from Sawyer’s drums. Uusitalo’s piano intensifies the air while Josh Allen continues a locked-in bass. Finally, the sax/wind blows itself out. Very picturesque.
Soliloquy in F Minor is Brust’s tribute to greats like Robert Glasper and Roy Hargrove. Uusitalo gets a sweet spotlight here and you can certainly pick up the hints of Glasper and Hargrove here. An excellent foray into 21st century Jazz.
A Shifting State is characterized by its funky and fun odd meters with a fascinating melody. Josh Allen’s bass gets the spotlight and he, as always, delivers beautifully. Brust and Eunson carry most of the remainder of the song with slight, even delicate, touches from Allen and Sawyer. A fine close to an extraordinary album.
Nicholas Brust represents the vanguard of Jazz in the fourth generation following the founders (Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington), the developers (Tatum, Parker, Gillespie, Miles, Monk, and Trane), and the adventurers (Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor). In the Brave New World of 21st Century Jazz, artists and composers like Nicholas Brust expound on all that has gone before and they do it with respect for the past and a keen eye to what may yet come. And they are not afraid to tackle the tough issues. God bless them.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl