Saxophonist/flutist Nicole Sherburne is a versatile veteran of many shades of the Columbus music spectrum, leading various groups and contributing to acts such as the Fabulous Johnson Brothers, Flypaper, Jamnesia, and Urban Jazz Coalition. Her current project, the Nicole Sherburne Quartet, is playing a style she has dubbed “noirscapes,” a smoky, cinematic blend of improvised jazz soundscapes. The band’s lineup boasts fellow local stalwarts Jason Branscum (trombone), Phil Maneri (double bass), and Adam Smith (drums & percussion). Sherburne and crew are very active these days, recording two albums and playing numerous shows, including a standing weekly gig at new downtown venue The Walrus. The quartet will be celebrating the release of its debut album Monstrum with two shows on Sunday, June 28th: a 5pm set at the Comfest I Wish You Jazz Stage, and the official release party at 8pm at The Walrus, 143 E. Main Street.
Much of Monstrum can be categorized as “free jazz,” but the group has succeeded in putting a different spin on that style. As Smith told me, the music of the Quartet “is totally improvised, but our goals unite at the intention of creating picturesque landscapes, [where] melodic opportunities always seem to reveal themselves as we allow space for ourselves.” While this concept seems difficult to capture in a recording, Monstrum does this admirably, as the space at the end of a passage often lends itself to the initiation of a new idea. The album consists of fifteen tracks with soundtrack-esque titles, but could easily exist as one flowing piece. Each member of the band seems to be equally involved in shaping the sound, with all contributing solo passages and collaborating on group improvisations. While many of the songs don’t stand out as individual compositions, there are some distinct highlights. “The Knife” positions a gently yearning saxophone part from Sherburne over the industrial grating of Maneri’s electronics-altered bass and sparse free percussion from Smith, and when Maneri drops out, Branscum’s more boisterous trombone enters and raises the energy level of the other two players before the music breaks down and eventually concludes with Sherburne yearning again over a wispy backdrop. “The Nightclub” starts out with a traditional feel, with a strong bassline from Maneri setting the stage for a casually swinging solo from Branscum, before a more open and dramatic conclusion. Monstrum is a great showcase of four very talented musicians who have bought into a concept and come together to make open improvisations that form the soundtrack to an abstract but unified adventure.
CD copies of Monstrum will be available for purchase at both performances Sunday. Digital downloads will also be available soon, so stay tuned to www.noirscapes.net for details. The quartet plays every Sunday night from 8pm to midnight at The Walrus (no show on July 5th), and is also playing Dick’s Den on Friday, July 3rd, 10pm to 2am. Check out one of the upcoming performances to experience a new take on improvised jazz in the form of “free-composed cinematic mood music.”