Alto saxophonist and composer Jeremy Udden unveils a new, “old” instrument on, Wishing Flower, the Lyricon, a wind synthesizer which is a precursor to the EWI. Playing with his collaborators over the past 15-20 years, Udden leads a quartet of guitarist Ben Monder, acoustic bassist Jorge Roeder, and drummer Ziv Ravitz in this collection of originals which blurs the lines between the acoustic and fusion. The concept is borne of Udden’s observations of his daughter finding the beauty of nature in the urban environs of Brooklyn, namely the dandelions in the sidewalk cracks and empty lots. Hence the album title and the tracks that play like a walk home from school in Brooklyn with his daughter, focusing on oft unrecognized sights and sounds. Given the shared history of the ensemble the recording was completed in just one day.
Getting back to Lyricon, its sound has graced albums of Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Tom Scott, and Weather Report, to name a few. It was invented in Massachusetts by synthesist Bill Bernardi and is an analog instrument played like a saxophone. Udden has since added pedals, looping devices, and triggers for other synths to expand his sonic palette. He brought it to the recording studio for the first time here.
“Flower” commences the program with Ravitz all over his cymbals and kit as Udden and Monder spin a light melody with a series of refrains and echoing lines that float over the frenetic bass-drum accompaniment. The quartet unleashes blues-rock in “!971” with Udden introducing the Lyricon for the first time, its blistering tones blending with Monder’s searing guitar as Ravitz stirs up a storm behind them. “Lullaby” is the antidote, with Monder moving to reverberating, harmonious chords over which Udden dances lyrically. The steady insistent beat for “Car Radio” connotes the sounds of the street and underpins solos from Roeder and then Monder while Udden’s Lyricon takes the lead melodically with the overall result casting shades of Weather Report.
The initial calm of “Pendulum” where rather subtle electronic wave patterns and Udden’s sustained alto notes soon give way to and edgy, disarming sonic assault led by Monder’s guitar blending with the alto, presumably suggesting the uglier side of the urban environment while the quieter element suggests escape to some semblance of solace. “Snowflake Paradox” presents a simple rather pensive melody, first stated by Udden on alto and embellished by Monder, before the two front liners weave in and around each other’s lines. Sonics become even more delicate in “Prospective Retreat,” a nod to Udden’s family retreat in western Massachusetts with Udden soaring blissfully over Monder’s pillowy chords and a busy but relatively restrained bass-drum tandem. Monder follows with a brief but brilliantly expressive solo that Udden answers in cozily warm tones. The album ends with an ethereal, almost totally electronic reading of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” which his cohorts (and this writer) were unfamiliar with. The Lyricon is once again the centerpiece in what is the essence of jazz, playing a tune for the first time as if the unit had played it for years.
Monder is such a versatile guitarist that these sonics would be unique even without the Lyricon, but its addition takes the quartet sound to a completely different and intriguing level.
- Jim Hynes
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