The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Sixth Sense: Stephen Nachmanovitch (violin), Stephanie Phillips (viola, voice), Karlton Hester (flute, saxophone, synthesizer)
Collective improv trio Sixth Sense may be an occasional ensemble, but the players’ mutual understanding is finely tuned, resulting in an expressive spontaneity that survives the odd longueur.
Most obviously, the musicians read each other’s phrasing beautifully, dovetailing or pausing together in respite as seems required. The most powerful moments, perhaps surprisingly considering the rather roomy acoustic, involve all three instruments squashed into a narrow upper range but, rather than stifling each other, finding a crevice in which to create melodic dissonance. While some passages in the longer pieces lose their way a little, the three soon find their route back to cohesion and a sense of communicative purpose.
Stephen Nachmanovitch’s rather skaty sound is not always generous to the ear but, although thinking on the hoof results in some compromising in the tuning department, his innately melodic approach is imbued with expressivity. Meanwhile, Phillips’s viola is richer and provides grounding for flute and violin, though in Light it is lost under an overbearing saxophone; and Hester’s synthwork in the closing Entropic is a nod to the electro-acoustic world that all three players inhabit outside the group. This provides a welcome change of perspective on the shared lyricism that is the album’s strong point.