The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
The Dam Levels
An unusual jazz trio that has a cello instead of the usual double bass
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Will Martina (cello) Jason Lindner (piano) Richie Barshay (drums)
Will Martina et al
Will Martina’s group bears some of the hallmarks of recent notable jazz trios The Bad Plus and EST – a mixture of snagging, rocky grooves and melodic elegance – but with the top line intriguingly shifted from piano onto Martina’s cello. As the album progresses, though, it feels as though his stronger suit is as rhythmic bedrock rather than lead improviser.
The recording opens with a beautifully articulated pizzicato pattern, while the gently chugging groove that Martina establishes in Instant This is just as good. But in his solos, the rhythmic certainty and clarity of purpose evaporates somewhat, resorting a little too often to decorative filler in, for example, Snake, Monkey, Cow. However, the elegiac opening to Casuarina Sands allows the cello a rare chance to sing, while Martina’s fuzzy, distorted harmonics when things loosen up generate a subtly electric feel, attractively offset by Richie Barshay’s drum textures.
Only rarely, in the recording’s punchier moments, does the cello feel a little light against the other instruments, but its nimbleness and melodic clarity justifies its use in a setting where the double bass is more familiar. The group just needs a slightly stronger improvisational voice to make this music really take off.
From the February 2012 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.