Review: Skylark Quartet – Live in Tokyo (Marginal Frequency, Jan 22)

Dancing in Tomelilla, Éric La Casa’s unconventional recording of the Cool Quartett with Lina Nyberg on vocals, showed me that the observer of a sound event can play just as important of a role in its identity as the performers. Even an otherwise conventional jazz performance can be rendered as an uncanny and texturally rich piece when the recorder allows themselves to take certain artistic liberties. I wouldn’t describe Skylark Quartet’s eleven renditions of the titular jazz standard as ‘conventional,’ per se; each of the musicians conveys the famous tune through largely unrestricted improvisation, painting a ghostly tribute that is almost indistinguishable from the original. What makes Live in Tokyo so much more compelling, and the reason for my bringing up Dancing in Tomelilla, is that the recordings of the performance are gleaned from four observers (Kanji Nakao, Sam Sfirri, Taku Unami, and Reiji Hattori) who capture the somber, free-form serenades in the most intimate manner possible. We hear the quiet shuffles and clicks of the band setting up, the satisfyingly organic way in which they ‘settle in’ to the song, not only the sounds the instruments make but also the sounds of them actually being played, the way the room seems to breathe around them…. The atmosphere of Live in Tokyo is an odd one, at once eerie and reassuring, and even disregarding the beautiful music itself it’s a fascinating meditation on how we consume recorded performances.

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