We have covered this imaginative quartet Madre Vaca (“Mother Cow”) before on these pages for 2020’s interpretation of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. Elements is their fourth album and deals with four elements of earth in just four long extended pieces, each composed by a different member of the quartet. Yes, lots of fours here (even the album tracks at 40:40) although to be fair, the last album was rendered by an octet as the group really operates as a collective. On Elements we have guitarist Jarrett Carter, pianist Jonah Pierre, bassist Thomas Milovac, and drummer Benjamin Shorstein.
So, you already know the titles of the pieces, in order of fire, water, earth, and wind. In some respects, you could liken this to Dave Liebman’s projects which have covered all four as single albums in a series but Liebman’s use of wind synthesizers and electronic keyboards give his albums a completely different feel from these largely, albeit with electric guitar, acoustic pieces. They are as colorful and unpredictable but lean a bit more toward classical than improvisational jazz, which has its presence too.
Shorstein’s “Fire” leads off with Carter taking the initial solo, the mood of which is later embellished by Pierre, with Milovac adding some atmosphere before the composer weighs in with a driving solo that then morphs into all four building to a boil, and finally exploding. Carter’s “Water” begins peacefully as if the listener were at a tranquil lake, but it too builds as if a storm is gathering, or a river is gaining momentum from spring ice melt to become a dangerous, powerful force.
Milovac’s “Earth” is the most complex of the pieces and understandably so. The earth is never settled as natural disasters occur frequently at unpredictable intervals. They improvise these occurrences as the music often shifts from calm to frenetically paced, akin to free jazz in one stunning sequence around the six minute mark before it settles out calmly with still a slight hint of disturbance as communicated by MIlovac’s bowed bass. “Wind” also features the bowed bass, this time reflecting a breeze that eventually leads into a joyous melody that perfectly ends this fascinating listen that will conjure many images.
This may be the crowning achievement of the four core members of Madre Vaca yet. Certainly the four elements leave plenty of room for compositional and improvisational ideas. One gets the feeling that these four musicians could take the same concept again and produce an equally good but different sounding jazz symphony. Be transported.
- Jim Hynes
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