Improvisations On An Apricot by Aqueduct Ensemble / by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Sophomore release “Improvisations on an Apricot” from label Last Resort is the fruits of a collaboration between Ohio based artist Keith Freund and his neighbour Stu. Keith has previously released music as part of both Lejsovka & Freund and Trouble Books and Stu is a piano tuner and professional pianist and together they build this album adding to each other’s improvisations. This album is rooted in free jazz, taking flights of fancy into cosmic synths, and is joyful and playful in its summery, daydreamy quality. There is a real sense of considered inquiry and experimentation in this album, with a pleasing balance of gentle parts with more challenging moments.

There is a sense in this album that everything is part of a bigger whole, each song almost forming a different corner or focal point of the larger canvas. Indeed, there is a great sense of painterly quality to the way this music flows, and the colours and textures are layered. This ECM style jazz album comes rebooted with a few modern touches of synth licks and stylistic choices. The feeling of spontaneity from the improvised elements, combined with the deliberate consideration behind creative choices in combining ideas makes for a listening experience that feels like a Super 8 Film flashback to a childhood summer vacation.

In that vivid sense of reality that childhood daydreams have, ‘Borrowed Sax Test’ opens the album with its smoky, hazy open chords. Subtly psychedelic, subconscious and surreal, the saxophone meanders amongst liquid, trickling synths and a gentle bed of mellow texture. A triptych of songs entitled ‘Cut Grass 1,’ ‘Cut Grass 2,’ and ‘Cut Grass 3’ follows this short track. In these next few tracks, there are equal parts soothing and challenging elements, with a sense of balance despite the looseness of form.

‘Cut Grass 1’ opens with the off-kilter, stammering rhythm of piano, held in a moment of anticipation before casting off into a sprawling dream of arpeggios and bright trumpet, as the bass is swooning below. Following on with ‘Cut Grass 2,’ this track ventures into a more bold experimentation of sparseness and looseness of form. Tone clusters and staccato gestures punctuated by great spaces in between build a jittery, uneven background for wailing, droning calls, like stretched out tape samples. Finally, ‘Cut Grass 3’ returns to familiar piano murmuring and the moonlit tones of a single muted trumpet, with the texture of rapid-fire rhythms.

‘Potters View North’ hits us with a deliberate reminder of the improvised spontaneity in the studio with a snippet of studio banter left onto the start of the reel before the piano embarks on its hopeful, lilting melody. Layers of saxophone, synth and rattling textures build, while the bass chases its tail in the background, creating a wash of sound that is bright and airy, like the horizon at twilight. Then the tone of the album shifts with ‘In Perfect Air,’ with its open saxophone chords overlaid with manic, flickering synth textures and a sustained bassline.

On penultimate track ‘C. Backlit’ there is a glimpse of hummingbirds and insects fluttering in the heat of summer amongst the textures of broken piano chords. Drunken bass washes against a background of bustling synths, filtered strings and modulating tone colours. The album concludes with “To Close Without Saving,” with a reedy drone, spaced out piano and a drowsy bottom end of swirling bass. Pierced with bright rays of trumpet sunshine, the sounds become distorted, pushing to the edge of discomfort, and then abruptly stops.

In its limited use of instruments and timbres, there is a real sense of a controlled palette, and this unifies the album from start to finish. The combination and variation of these different colours and textures truly felt like listening to something visual be laid out on canvas. The sonic sensibility of the album really evoked the idea of brushstrokes, gestures, scraping and smearing, painting in a way that is somewhere between expressionism and abstract impressionism.