Saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist and 2011 ASCAP Young Composers Award winner Joshua Kwassman studied at the New School in New York. He has also spent time studying with established jazz artists including keyboardist Rachel Z, saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Reggie Workman. As a performer he has worked with artists like trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and pianist Geoffrey Keezer. This recording is an EP with three selections, though they are extended in length, totaling 30 minutes.
Working with Kwassman is vocalist and New York native Arielle Feinman. A fellow student with Kwassman at the New School, her voice is light when doing wordless vocals on "In Light There Is Song" and in this song sounds a bit like Flora Purim's vocalize work. When singing words, as on "Clarity," she has a pop like sensibility to her phrasing. Her intonation is perfect and she definitely approaches the music from within the melodic lines she sings.
Another of their fellow New School students, keyboardist Fabian Ortiz is originally from Texas. His playing is rooted in classical tradition and technique, yet flows in slightly pulsating ways in a very careful manner in conjunction with Kwassman's harmonic lines. Guitarist Michael Valeanu has true jazz sensibilities, always finding just the right note to color the proceedings.
Kwassman's compositions are, as one would expect, the true star of this recording. All of the pieces are extended arrangements of carefully planned and scaled constructions. "Clarity" is of the popish hook-em-in type. "In Light There Is Song" moves in waves of varying tempo and colors. Kwassman's own clarinet, soprano sax and flute playing are highlighted but not in an improvisatory manner, they are used more in terms of the color they can provide to the sections in which they are used. "Satellite" is an 11/8 rocker than swings. The ensemble's ability to navigate this metric territory is set up by excellent playing from bassist Peter Yuskauskas and drummer Jake Boldbas.
While Kwassman is a good player, his clarinet tone and intonation are not on par with his other instrumental playing, but his true strength lies in the seemless compositions he wrote that move from idea to idea in smooth transitions. It will be interesting to see what he's doing 10 years from now.