Hearing David Chenu’s album Two is like listening to someone finally telling the truth. It’s dark, stark and magnetic. This is not what you would label "happy" music. It’s melancholy and contemplative, leaving you wanting to reject its candor at first, but you can’t deny the reality. The music draws you in without the need to persuade you, it simply presents the facts and that alone is completely refreshing. It’s healthy to note that the entire album was recorded in pianist Evan Jacob’s living room direct to analog tape without overdubs or editing. You’re allowed to feel each musician’s vulnerability and the raw technical inadequacies only heighten the experience.
"Estimated Sonic Transfer," an obvious word play on the recording process, begins the descent into this melodrama with the subtle tugging of Beau Sample’s acoustic bass. Chenu, on tenor, fools you into thinking that he’s planning to cover Gershwin’s "Summertime," but pulls back enough to create a melody that’s as refreshing as it is reflective. Both the piano and Jacob Wise’s guitar are distant in the mix, but distinctive enough to rouse the senses with sparkling solos. The drums played by a very limber Jason Friedrich helps seal the twilit environment setting the mood for the entire suite.
Immediately following is the haunting waltz "The In-between," led by Jacobs with an airy solo by Wise. Chenu’s lilting saxophone caresses the melody and his solo builds a playground for Jacobs’ piano to spin and frolic. The undercurrent of the beguiling melody continues to float out and back again (the ‘in between’). An amazing song.
The 2 minute 8 second "Improvisation" is exactly what it says. No melody or form. No purpose or direction. Simply a reminder that you are not where you think you are. This is not a jazz album. This is a living room where friends have gathered to carefully explore sincere expression and anything goes.
"Recycled Introspection" reexamines the concept of composition beyond the confines ‘verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus.’ It glides along merrily letting the melody lead, sway and taunt while Friedrich’s toms and brushes accent a sparse beat, as if from the next room. Chenu offers a half solo to underscore the brilliance of Jacob’s ever evolving ‘pianoscapes’ and like the preceding track, the song suddenly stops.
"October" is the rainbow of this late afternoon rain shower. A light, bluesy gospel phrase that makes you forget the cold winter is coming. You readjust and settle into a warm sweater, humming along. Magnificent solos are plenteous and aptly provided by Chenu, Wise and Jacobs. How Sample and Friedrich can sustain such a firm foundation while remaining so hushed is a magnificent feat. The groove is tight, yet loose and the only counterbalance is the ambience. My favorite tune!
"Chorale Number One" expands the surroundings. The instruments feel further apart and spread about the room, but the vision of the ensemble remains intact, focused and concentrated. Jacob Wise exposes visionary guitar work and Sample steps up to the bat for a profound acoustic bass solo. His gallant performance and depth of field is superb and once alone he single-handedly conquers the space, prompting crisp responses from drums and piano who accompany him back into the intro that magically turns into an outro and suddenly disappears.
Drummer Jason Friedrich leads the way into "The Mixup," which is part bop, part swing and very groovy. It seems to follow the same chord as "Improvisation," which is to simply play off each other irrespective of direction or purpose. The intended speeding of the tempo toward the end shows the band’s sheer contempt for form, which is the true essence of jazz: build something and continue to revise it, ad infinitum.
"The Painting" is arguably my second favorite. Chenu picks up a baritone sax and transforms our living room into a tiny bistro just outside Sicily. Wise and Jacobs’ unostentatious presence confirms that someone is going to get smoked today! Yet the rest of us are none the wiser because Sample and Friedrich’s candid two-step compels us to order that second cup of espresso. It can’t be stressed enough how talented these guys are. They consistently exhibit the authority to create any manifestation they desire onto which they vividly paint with concurrent broad stokes and tiny, intricate tonal patterns that boldly encase the work into the rarest of frames for showcase in the Museum of Original Thought.
For those who think I might be a bit too complex in my description of the music DCQ displays in this project, the diminutive 1:47 "I Know Why" further explicates my near diatribe. There’s no reason for it, but that the musicians willed it to be and it is and within the context of the entire album, its existence makes perfect sense.
"The Waltz" is no exception. This is a perfect tune that captures the band in full sail, floating deeper into the corners of our imaginations with a vengeance. A déjà vu with a twist of alto saxophone to enhance the dreamlike state the song weaves you into.
"Underneath" is the perfect way to bring closure to a glorious one hour one minute and six seconds. The tune winds in and out of a melodic half-time tempo that serves as an intro, bridge and general motif. Evan Jacob again proves that he is a pianist to be reckoned with, providing a marvelous solo, again competently supported by Friedrich’s shuffling brushes. David Chenu’s remarkable tone is enrapturing. You’ll hit the repeat button often.
Closing out the set is (probably) part two of "Improvisation." The liner notes claim that this song was the last to be recorded, just to fill up the end of the tape reel, which is why it suddenly ends.
TWO is an absolute delight. The compositions, chordal arrangements, instrumentation, excellent musicianship and ‘sound’ of the record is much more than pressing play on a tape recorder in an overcrowded living room. The intensity and emotion is in direct contrast to the fact that each song is laid back -near ballads, devoid of any fast tempos or pulse, yet every cut moves you. Nothing But Cool. Highly Recommended. By the way, David Chenuambiance Quintet also has ONE available. It’ll soon be in my collection as well.