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Vigil by Andy McWain

Pianist Andy McWain is known mostly for his excursions into free-jazz, and it is in this genre he, bassist Albey Balgochian and drummer Laurence Cook, work on Vigil. Born in Boston, McWain studied at the Aspen Music School, earned a master’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory of Music, received a fellowship to the Wellesley Composers Conference and has participated in artist residences at locations such as the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Honors and awards for his music have come from the American Music Center and the Boston Chapter of the American Composers Forum. As a pianist, he has worked or recorded with a wide range of artists including Tiger Okoshi, Jim Robitaille and Bruce Gertz, among others.

This recording is a true free-jazz trio outing, in that each of the three artists bring ideas to each piece which are then traded, exchanged, built on, developed and interpolated by the other members in true consort. The title track, for example, shows the group ethic in its best light. After some initial bass staccato leads, which are aptly enriched by Cook’s similarly tart cymbal work, the piece morphs into a sweet little and subtlety expressive section of rich and sustained pianistic tonal colors. Here Balgochian’s bass lines transition into short little trills to match the trillish lines McWain eventually creates. A return to the initial staccato-like work in the bass again leads to sustained piano sounds, but this time with an emphasis on lower register sonorities - all the while artfully accompanied by Cook.

It’s rare to hear the thought and communicative process in free jazz so clearly articulated, but this trio does this with aplomb. Other highlights include Cook’s driving cymbal lines which propel "The Window of Views" into spiritedly-vexing but rewarding excitement. If this tune had a traditional jazz head/melody you would not be able to discern if from work done by many of today’s popular jazz trios including The Bad Plus and E.S.T.

One of the really appealing aspects of this recording is how the artists rarely go off on over-extended tangents that meander. The shared sense of time exhibited by these artists, and their role within time’s borders, allows for some interesting and wonderful work. While this music is more traditionally jazz-trio oriented than work by free-jazz pioneers such as Paul Bley, it is still exciting.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Andy McWain
  • CD Title: Vigil
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Fuller Street Music
  • Tracks: Absolute Blue, Vigil, The Window of Views, Offerings in Purple, Ceremonial Moon, Impervious Light and Indestructible Red
  • Musicians: Andy McWain (piano), Albey Balgochian (bass), Laurence Cook (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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