Josh Modney’s Near To Each is a wonderfully composed album, and if you’re familiar with Carrier Records’ reputation for releasing albums of high quality, challenging, and engaging music performed at the highest level then you won’t be disappointed with this newest release. The album consists of nine original works by Modney, composed for violin (Josh Modney), cello (Mariel Roberts), saxophones (Ingrid Laubrock), and piano (Cory Smythe). The album covers a wide range of moods and aesthetics, all filtered through Modney’s personal flair for drawing out timbral nuances from extended playing techniques and non-equal temperament pitch structures
Near to Each is in part inspired by a walk on the Appalachian trail wherein Modney observed the variations of natural environment around him, taking in the placid stasis that could be changed at a moment’s notice based on external elements. The liner notes liken this to a musical structure in which a form of musical stasis or a structural constant is also in a state of potential and/or perpetual irrevocable change based on the gestures and sounds that infiltrate and force the change to happen. This is a very apt metaphor for the music on Near To Each which itself is in a state of unbroken development. Modney also refers to an overarching theme of dichotomies and emergence throughout the album, which I feel can be clearly perceived in each composition. The individual pieces are far too dense to try to summarize in a single review, and so I’ve found it best to focus on the album as a cohesive whole - the sum of its parts - rather than the components themselves. My goal is to review the forest rather than focus on the trees.
Another quote from the liner notes that stuck with me while listening is that the music occupies “in-between spaces for extended durations of time,” and I couldn't agree more. It feels as if you could drop into any point of any piece and have generally a similar feeling, not of stasis or noise, but of traveling from one point to another. I’m not sure the perceived or anticipated goal I expected was ever fully realized, and I personally find that to be a very rewarding experience. It’s as if the music exists from one moment to the next, clearly and rigorously composed and skillfully executed, though always existing in liminal space. It reminds me of a quote from Richard Linklater’s masterful film Waking Life, “the goal is to remain in a constant state of departure while always arriving.” Modney’s compositions remind me of this in that they undergo constant rigorous development to the point the listener is always waiting for the arrival, but the arrival is simply another point of departure open to external influence. This left me in a state of constant wonder and curiosity, and has made repeated listens all the more rewarding.
One of the most striking aspects of the album is the exploration of extended pitch structures through use of microtones on saxophone, glissandi and microtones on strings, and software piano instruments that allow for just-intonation. I found this approach engaging because of the timbral possibilities that are introduced with finely tuned pitches, but also because of how this fits into the larger concept of the album. The idea of penetrating forces and in-between spaces can be heard directly through the use of very dense harmonies and melodic gestures that interrupt the stability of equal temperament. The core concept is maintained through the glissandi and moment-to-moment microtonality, but also in a grander sense through extended just-intonation harmonies that create a characteristic and consistent pitch space throughout the album, albeit one that could take unseasoned listeners a couple listens to adjust to.
What I took away most directly on my first listen through Near to Each is how remarkably performed it is. This music is by no means easy to play, but the performers make their way through each composition as if they’re completely unphased by the intricacy and interconnected lines. Per Modney’s notes, these pieces are intended to outline the idiosyncrasies of the performers as they have all grown and played together as a unit. Modney crafted the pieces to play to their strengths and highlight the striking features of each instrument, as well as the musicality and unique voice of the performers. There are moments of improvisation intermixed with the fully composed passages, but from a listening standpoint you would never notice. The music always comes off as highly conversational at all times, demonstrating a quartet that is playing individually and collectively at the height of their abilities.
Overall, Near to Each is an incredible album that I strongly recommend. Be warned that it could be a challenging first listen, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
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