Spencer Zahn - Sunday Painter Music Album Reviews

Spencer Zahn - Sunday Painter Music Album Reviews
Joined by players including percussionist Mauro Refosco and guitarist Dave Harrington, the New York bassist takes atmospheric cues from classic ECM productions while evoking relaxed, low-key vibes.

On his first two albums, Spencer Zahn was alone with a synthesizer. For his latest, he got together some friends. Sunday Painter, the bassist’s first album as a bandleader, features contributions from a range of artists, including Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco (David Byrne, Dirty Projectors, Atoms for Peace) and guitarist Dave Harrington (Darkside). Taking inspiration from the luminary ECM Records, Zahn’s explicit goal was to put together an ensemble nimble enough to turn the recording space itself into a collaborator. But where the whitewashed gallery walls of classic ECM spotlit individual players’ poise and precision, Sunday Painter has the exhausted living-room energy of a group of college buds determined to stay up ’til sunrise: It’s a little sleepy, a little on edge, but more than anything content simply to be in the same place as good people.
As a bandleader, Zahn is far from pushy. Like fellow bassist Sam Wilkes, he seems to take the concept of the rhythm section seriously: His role here is to create stable environments for his collaborators to play around with. This is something they frequently elect not to do, instead working to augment these settings further; there aren’t solos so much as shifts of emphasis. When this works, it can be breathtaking. “Key Biscayne” is as humid as its South Florida namesake, with raindrops of piano tapping away at a looping pattern as distant thunderclaps from Refosco dot the landscape. Everything takes its time decaying. Cymbal crashes, hoarse notes from Spencer Ludwig’s trumpet, casually offered asides from a piano—it all hangs in the room for so long that even the simplest phrases start to carry the weight of maxims.

But the emphasis on world-building, as opposed to soloing or more melodic pursuits, can keep the stakes low in a way that occasionally makes these songs feel stale. “The Mist” is spiked with a splash of organ that comes off like Miles Davis’ “Shhh/Peaceful” moving at a speed-walk pace as the group feels its way along a rocky coastline with only Refosco’s wayfinding bells to guide them. Once the scene is established, Ludwig and Harrington both step into the spotlight, but neither has much to say; with the band having assembled the mood so expertly, their leads both feel like they’re simply reiterating a point that’s already been made.

Throughout, Zahn’s bass resembles a lightning rod, the one tall and sturdy thing that’s always standing, even when the rest of the band bends as low to the ground as they can. His playing is accomplished—he’s toured as a sideman with Empress Of, Twin Shadow, and Half Waif, in addition to Harrington—but never showy, and it’s always in service of the song. He allows himself a bit of indulgence in “Empathy Duet,” where his solo is shrouded in threadbare electronics, and he provides the emotional backing to “Roya,” a song that blooms from a dusky strut into a slow-motion heartbreaker that wouldn’t sound out of place on Broken Social Scene’s self-titled record.

With an emphasis on intimacy, interplay, and enclosed space, this group excels at low-slung love songs, the kind of thing you’d put on to laze away the afternoon with your beloved. On “To the One You Love,” Zahn’s bass takes big gulps of air while the band brews up a pillowy ether. It’s one of Sunday Painter’s most effective tracks, moving from sweet charm to internal dissonance to mature intimacy—a nice mirror of love’s evolution, all unfolding at a gauzy crawl. Even “Promises,” Ludwig’s brief duet with saxophonist Michael McGarril, is little more than a dance between the two horns, each tracing lines around the other.

If Zahn’s goal was to make a record that takes on the characteristics of its environment, he’s succeeded. Sunday Painter never stops feeling like exactly what it is, which is the sound of a group of supremely talented musicians just happy to be in a room together. Zahn has a compelling vision as an arranger and composer, and he’s assembled a group that’s more than capable of carrying it out. Still, the collective playing here can be so entrancing you can’t help but wonder where they might have gone if they’d ventured outside.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Spencer Zahn - Sunday Painter Music Album Reviews Spencer Zahn - Sunday Painter Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, September 24, 2020 Rating:

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