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MP3 Zack Lipton - First Steps

"A compelling declaration of artistic direction and aesthetic conception that is refreshingly different from the current status quo of irrelevant virtuosic technique."

10 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Contemporary Jazz, JAZZ: Chamber Jazz

"First Steps, the aptly titled debut album of saxophonist Zachary Lipton, is a compelling declaration of artistic direction and aesthetic conception that is refreshingly different from the current status quo of irrelevant virtuosic technique. But this artistic direction is as complex as it is clearly present. The qualities in Lipton''s music embrace the paradoxes that make music so wonderful at the same time that they make it so hard to describe how these qualities produce this effect. As Lipton explains, “I value a certain degree of rightness, a sense of inevitability that is simultaneously
counterintuitive—and that''s something I''d like to share with my audience.”

This juxtaposition of inevitability with counterintuitivity is present to a certain extent on all the tracks on First Steps. The opening song, Shtuyot, which is named after a Hebrew slang term, features a laid back bass line that sounds like it could or should be sampled into a hip hop track. On top of this bass line is a melody that, though never departing from the rhythmic and harmonic framework of the bass line, moves in unpredictable and seemingly unconventional direction—the sort of thing that one would expect from a Richard Strauss opera.

March 1st is perhaps the strongest track, a heart wrenching ballad whose sweet and soulful melody is made raw by Chodos'' tastefully dissonant accompaniment. The album then transitions from slow and sentimental to a more hot and exciting vibe through the first of three interludes, like crackers and water between the tasting of wines. These interludes act as a, “glue to tie together the whole record—especially between quartet and quintet tunes. Also I think they give a hint at other influences of the band that aren''t captured in the full-length songs,” says Lipton. For example, they have a more open form, so the band sounds more loose, the way that they sound during live shows. In addition, the back beat rhythms offer the chance to hear a more eclectic range of influences.

The Hodge Positionary and Waltz for Maya are both exemplars of the cohesiveness of structure that is in all of Lipton''s compositions. As Lipton explains, “I try to write sections that are closely related to each other, even if they have substantial differences. In The Hodge Positionary, the melodic material of the first cue becomes the bass line under the A section and thus forms the basis [of] the harmony.”

Interlude 2 (The Theme) is derived from a song Lipton typically plays at the end of live sets; it cleanses the palate of the sweet, sincere sentimentality of Waltz for Maya and sets the stage for the rowdy adventurousness of Flight. Fast and metrically complex, Flight showcases the technical virtuosity of the band and provides a vehicle for frenetic energy that is both exciting and sophisticated.

After the third and final interlude, a recapitulation of The Theme, the stage is set for the finale of 104 and Blues. As Lipton''s roommate at the time, I have the distinct privilege of being present in room 104 of Tufts University''s Hodgdon Hall during the early months of 104''s creation. Inspired by the opening two chords of Miles Davis'' Ghetto Walk, 104 twists and turns through sophisticated harmonies while still maintaining a laid-back blues feel. Lipton sounds particularly comfortable during his solo on this song. The album concludes with Blues, in which Lipton and Croker solo simultaneously over traditional blues changes."

-Joshua Herman

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