Monique Avakian reviews 40Twenty

Posted by Yeah Yeah Records

A generous reader posted this review in the comments, and we’re elevating it into a post:

40Twenty: The Essence Eternal

Playful, inventive, adventurous and engrossing: such are the choice adjectives needed to describe the compelling musicians of the jazz combo known as 40Twenty. With masterful command of musical technique, empathic communication and expressive intellectual concepts, the group took lucky listeners in house at Brooklyn’s I-Beam on an incredible journey through myriad layers of sound, rhythm and consciousness.

The 8:30 set held on July 30th found Jacob Sacks on piano, Dave Ambrosio on upright bass, and Jacob Garchik on trombone. Nestled in the attractive, clear space of I-Beam, this group created spectacular improvised sound poems that unleashed a mojo of enlightened proportion throughout the room. Though the crisp white lamps and rectangular sound shocks swayed overhead in portent tandem with the group’s rhythmic romps, none of the players felt heavy handed in spirit or approach—quite the opposite, in fact.

Rhythmically, the group stood squarely on the shoulders of Dolphy and Monk, yet remained authentic and consistent in real-time communication with one another, exemplifying the art of Call and Response throughout the evening. Mad dash piano flam-plunks punctuated a playful dance of intrigue as the bass called forth and held court–simultaneously and curiously able to at once weigh anchor and set sail. The satisfying thrust and parry between keys and strings were at unpredictable moments sprinkled with authentic, yet surprising, multi-octave chromatic runs as Sacks impishly grinned at Ambrosio, who was clearly thrilled with the challenge each moment presented and only all too happy to up the ante in return. Trombonist Garchik heroically kept up the pace set by these instigators, taking the conventionally lackadaisical instrument for a serious thrill ride within the trio’s joyful house of mirrors.

Melodically, the most intriguing moments were carved from Ambrosio’s ballad, I-V. Soulful, rich and lush, but no less adventurous, and certainly no less intellectually satisfying, this unconventional piece spiraled directly to heart, pulling all in the room inward into a meditative state that brought a peaceful taste of reverie, (as well as a welcome rest to the frolic had before and after).

Harmonically, the arrangements took the listener to places most understandable to those “in the know.” Those of us less schooled in the intricacies of music theory, however, were not completely lost. This was as refreshing as it was reassuring and accomplished by secure and solid introductions and conclusions, clearly bookending for the audience the overall gist of each complex excursion. This allowed less skilled listeners to grab hold of the main ideas, even if they found the details out of reach. The two familiar tunes played were clearly identifiable, yet presented in a thematically consistent manner. As 40Twenty so adroitly worked the lathe, the standards up-ended with a rather Hegelian slight of hand through inventive voicing. This was very satisfying.

Poetically, there were visions, of course. Kadinsky spun forth predominantly through the sine waves, roving along with merry bands of angular shapes. Circles, squares, and arcs sparked through crisp modern lattices across an understated deep orange of sky. Memories of old-school Batman and Robin hi-jinx popped up from time to time, riding on the coat-tails of cherished and hilarious Marx Brothers’ routines. Rounding out the set with the ballad, Monet’s smeary soft blues and greens washed over the dreamy audience as Chagall’s flying lovers hovered quietly in a far off corner.

Oh, Yes! Three days and several trains later, I remain engaged with the essence eternal, thankful for I-Beam, 40Twenty and the jewel of Music’s crystalline spirit.

–Monique Avakian, 8/1/10

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