Adam Nolan Quartet - Makiwara, Subtle Hints
Adam Nolan Quartet is a group that is never afraid of experimenting and innovating their music. The quartet doesn't like to play the same thing twice because they get bored. They are always in search of creating new things and experiencing new aspects of music and life. They believe they manage to capture the beauty of nature and life while being under the pressure to create and express that with music in the same exact moment. That's because all of their work is fully improvised, as can be understood by their statement of not liking to play the same thing twice. Jazz Meditation is the key factor in the preparation of each of their albums and every member of the band is quite experienced with that.
However, members of Adam Nolan Quartet continue their journey on jazz meditation through the Makiwara series. They kept meditation as the key factor, as they do with each of their albums. As a "big meditator", Adam Nolan, the Tenor Saxophonist of the quartet, states that the album aims to alter the states of consciousness through Jazz Meditation. He also believes that this move was "Experimental, risky, driven, and raw". The album is all improvised and carries elements from many genres, including hip hop, jazz, funk, free jazz, world music, tribal, psychedelic, and punk music. While that may be a lot, it fits every adjective that Adam Nolan used to describe the boldness of their approach.
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Adam Nolan: Tenor Sax
Lorcan Byrne: Drums
Cillian Byrne: Bass
Chris Colloton: Guitar
Recorded by Thomas Donoghue
The Snake-The Spine
The first and the longest song in the album starts with a catchy bassline. This bassline attracts the listener into the song. As soon as Adam begins his tenor saxophone, the song gains atmosphere, not easy to describe, but which they manage to maintain throughout all the songs in the album. As Adam states that meditation is a key factor in each song, the listener can immediately grasp this meditative aspect of the song after the bass and tenor saxophone combines. The second phase of the song starts as Colloton enters with his guitar. Guitar immediately starts a well-structured improvisation, on the same bassline. This improvisation section is excellent in various aspects: it’s calm and unhurried. Its thinner texture, softer dynamics, and on-spot chord progressions guide the listener deeper into the meditative world that Nolan managed to create. The drums play the role of an anchor through this phase, Nolan with the saxophone supplements with extras.
While the song manages to proceed with extensive improvisation phases, around the 4-minute mark, Nolan takes the flag from the guitarist starts a third improv phase. This section is extensive and unhurried in lots of sense. Although Nolan’s texture not thin and not softer than before, the melodic phrasing is even more smooth, this somehow enables the sound of the music to be more intense and more meditative than ever. While the drums are once again the anchor -which makes it impossible for the listener to forget about the rhythmic aspect of the song. At some point, the guitar, quite elegantly, blends in this section. These parts are like a calm, smooth dialogue between saxophone and guitar. The next phase of the song includes the rhythmic section for the improvisation.
At the 7-8 minute mark, the Byrne with drums smoothly and calmly starts its solo. Even though the drums solo part started off unhurriedly, the solo slowly evolves into a different ‘sound’. After a few moments, the drums increase its tempo while the rhythmic structure starts to get more complex as it is indicating a surprising ending. The final section with Nolan’s joining to Byrne’s solo, at the 9-minute mark: an extensive collective session embarks. The drummer is now more interactive with the melodic and harmonic structures, while more complex melodies are played in unison. This section is the climax of the 12-minute journey of the meditative ‘sound’. Ultimately, the improv phases are like the different phases of meditation, each part has its own unique sound while they are collectively in the meditative atmosphere Nolan managed to create. The while the sound of the last section differs from all, it somehow manages to combine all of the sections into a climax, which is namely, the end of a smooth, calm meditation.
The 3rd Eye
The second track of the album starts with a nice drum solo. The piece is very engaging and high-paced with a very fast and loud rhythm being played in the background with regular accompaniments of low-pitched saxophone melodies. Those two factors create a great contrast that really puts the listener in a great mood. The piece would be a great piece to listen to while jogging or doing any kind of work that requires constant-rhythmic movements. The rhythm in the background would allow you to set your pace while the treble section would create the melody that you'll enjoy as you do your work. Thanks to the rhythm, the piece resembles African music a lot, which is the main aspect of jazz music. If you listen to it in a quiet room, you may imagine being in the savannah as African tribe members make music. The rhythm in the background is multi-layered, meaning that you can hear different patterns every time you listen to it. That creates a sense as if multiple percussion instruments were used in the recording, yet, that's surprisingly wrong. All that complexly-layered rhythm was the work of a single drummer playing on a single-drum. Which is astonishing. There are various rhythms that you can follow as you listen and the rhythms do not distort each other and do not cause an extremely "noisy" sound that disturbs you. The balancing is perfect in that aspect. While there is a lot to talk about the rhythmic section of the piece, the treble has its own properties that, combined with the rhythm, makes the piece great. The piece starts with slow saxophone solos that are most probably improvised. Those solos create a calm, relaxing melody which generates a great contrast with the vibrant and loud rhythmic section. That adds up to the "layered" structure of the piece. You can focus on whichever "layer" you want and won't lose the great experience of listening to this piece. As we approach the middle section of the piece, however, that contrasts leave to the unity of fast-paced guitar solos and fast-paced rhythm with drums. While that section may be a bit too loud to listen to in certain environments, it's a great joy to listen to if you clear your mind and focus purely on the combined harmony between the layers. The second piece is a very dynamic and well-constructed piece. It's a definite recommendation for people who do workouts and enjoy good jazz music
Searching For Different
The third track of this album begins with Adam's solo in which he invites us into the rest of the tune, into the world that he created. A guitar later joins his almost mournful, bittersweet phrases; adding texture, accompanying him, and having a dialogue in this strange language. The guitar chords are almost like questions, swelling through space with a lot of reverb, that Adam answers with his lines. Note choices are unique and they communicate a great deal of musicianship to the listener. Then around the 4-minute mark, the bass also joins. There is an unfamiliar, mystical atmosphere achieved by some recording choices, making the labeling of the emotion hard. Different elements of the recording fade in and out making it pleasing to listen. At 3.22 Adam gives us the main argument. The other instruments stop and listen a while to this determined and soulful melody line. Later they join the line with their own ideas. In addition, a subtle percussion also joins, in an innuendo fashion and starts leading the way of the others, driving the track forward. The song is a journey within itself as the groove subtly changes once in a while. We can hear the musicians having a spiritual experience and indeed searching for something different, a new soundscape, a new meaning, through the track. We can hear their ideas as they come out of their bodies in a musical form. The solos are mesmerizing, improvised professionally. The musicians try to lead the listeners' thoughts throughout these amazing 11 minutes. As the tone switches and the track advances, this song represents the sound and mission of this album quite masterfully: trying to reach a new point and have a unique experience in the never-ending jazz universe.
The Blue Violet Land
The fourth track of this album is a very calm and slow one. It starts with a saxophone solo. The saxophone solo establishes a tension that makes the listener want to continue listening. The tension is supported with regular breaks that are introduced by imperfect cadences. The melody doesn't resolve for quite a while. That, however, doesn't irritate the listener as the tension doesn't have a great magnitude. It would irritate you if you had to stop listening to the piece without reaching the resolution, however, you don't wish the tension to end as you continue listening. Instead, it makes the listener wonder which melodical structure will come next. That tension is the signature element of the piece, and spoiler alert never gets resolved. The piece ends without you noticing. That makes it a great piece for focus-requiring work sessions. As mentioned at the beginning, the piece is a very calm and relaxing one. Quite contrary to the second piece in this album, it's perfect for long study sessions or for ambient music. Since it doesn't have a distinct introduction or ending, the music will never disrupt your attention from your work. It will, however, provide a great ambient "noise" to you.
Quantum Physics, is one of the experimentalist songs in the album. The song starts with, as a jazz critic would call it, unusual sounds. These sounds are intriguing and interesting. Without melody or rhythm, Nolan enters this unusual atmosphere with the tenor saxophone. While Nolan plays the same note, uninterruptedly, with every emphasis, the sound intrigues, compromises the listener. The sound is monotone and highly unstable at the same time, so do what the listener feels. While the saxophone starts to get involved with melody, the foggy atmosphere in front of the sound dissolves. The rhythmic structures of the drumline and the melody give an essence of world music. While some listeners may notice the tribal essence of the ‘unusual sounds’ in the beginning, it becomes apparent as the song progresses. The most important part of the melody in Quantum Physics is the structures and the sentences. What makes Quantum Physics unusual is how sentences are used to create a sound. Most sentences are unusual, incomplete, and, somehow, disturbing. The overall sound is also incomplete, there is no end, no rising, no fall, it’s all climax. This aspect of the sound makes the melody and rhythm easier to create tension. The sound of the song is a complete threat for a standard listener, a threat for jazz, rock, any other music. Quantum Physics is different, therefore a threat, a disturbance, an anxiety, and many other things. The sound, rhythm, melody, everything is scattered and untidy, not what it’s supposed to be. The sheer unusualness, scatteredness of the sound makes the song one of the greatest experimentalist works of Adam Nolan.
The final track "Poachers" starts with a subtle groove. The tone choice of the drums makes it feel tribal and almost ancient. Adam then joins with his sax and starts to tell a story. The story has commas, question marks, "what if"s... The drums gradually become lauder and introduce cymbals, accents. The listener's ears go from Adam's sax to the drums and from the drums to his sax as we hear them completing each other's statements. The upbeat rhythm combined with the sax solo creates a sensation of traveling in a rocket ship in space, the stars being the notes. It’s a giant roller coaster rushing into the void, meeting with a few slight bumps on the road. There is generally a very alienating feeling about this track like the music that is being made is no longer about basic human emotions but about something more astral, psychedelic even. Stare at the album cover while listening to this one and I swear it starts moving. The profound calculated randomness of the sounds in this track definitely makes you step out of your existence for a while and hang in the abstraction, the absurdity. There is also something magical about the phrasing in the solo that should be addressed. While the solo lines being generally fluent, there are some moments where the saxophone pauses and we are left alone with the drums. It’s like we go between the foreground of the recording to the background, it creates a three-dimensional sonic feeling that really requires attention, unlike some more mainstream jazz. Many jazz musicians aspire to create that journey that takes the listener from their seats to places they have never been in before, Adam Nolan achieved that in this track. It's a very good way to end a killer album.