Some challenging music is originating in New England, and, against expectations, it’s not being written and performed by students from or the faculty of the Berklee School of Music of the New England Conservatory of Music. Rather, trumpeter Jerry Sabatini is recording his own compositions that are not for the technically faint of heart and that borrow from modes and rhythms from around the world. The Walt Whitman quote on the CD jacket suggests the all-encompassing interests of Sonic Explorers as they musically absorb thoughts from disparate cultures and synthesize them into their own brand of music quite distinct from that of any other group: "All Peoples of the globe together sail/Sail the same voyage, are bound/to the same destination."
Educated as an electrical engineer, Sabatini, it seems, couldn’t suppress his passion for music as a means of expression and cultural investigation. Eventually, he committed all of his energies to musical expression, primarily as the leader of Sonic Explorers.
With somewhat of a dark undercurrent to the music, as befits much of the Eastern European ornaments and melodies that are a part of his compositions, Sabatini explores the darker sides of human nature. His sonic portrait of the preliminaries before an execution on "Pardon Me, Governor" attains atmospheric dread with the klezmer-like melancholy of James Falcone’s clarinet. Indeed, many of Sabatini’s works are cinematic in their wordless story-telling technique and in their shifting hues.
"Gone," with its empty sense of abandonment, relies on Thomson Kneeland’s spare and understated bass loping to create a sense of movement within the stasis of loss. Rather than developing crafty melodies that audiences would hum on their way home from a performance, Sabatini instead brushes a portrait of subdued shades from the dissonant, sustained chords of the brass instruments.
"Balkalla," on the other hand, consists of frenetic energy that borrows from Eastern European modes in 5/4 for an ever-rising sense of intensity throughout the scene-setting, the repetitive trumpet phrases eventually developing into an extended solo evoking Balkan celebration. "Geraldo’s Hideaway" is so drenched in Old World sentiment with the simplicity of its melody that it could be suggestive of a Sicilian street march.... or a Hungarian wedding song. Makes no difference. For Sabatini’s intent is the commonality of the world’s cultures, with their differing means of expression for the same overwhelming emotions that form a richness of wonder and absorption.
"Negative Space," more intellectual and less atmospheric than some of the other tracks, features Kneeland at the beginning of the tune as he bows a rocking and sometimes screeching solo at odds with the circular pattern of the phrasing throughout its remainder. Other tracks like "My World or Yours/Tone Me" or "Advansor" bring in electronic effects for a sense of other-worldliness or a sense of ethereal oversight, allowing the horns to play free.
Meticulously arranged and expertly performed, Sabatini’s compositions obviously have undergone hours of practice and adjustments before Sonic Explorers was ready to record So Far, So Near.
The result is over an hour of challenging and unconventional music whose intentions are more than the performance of a memorable tune. Instead, the CD strives for the greater goal of bringing the world’s peoples together through music.