Liminal opens with a closing. Saarelaht sums up Closing, written for a surgeon to whom he sent the piece, but from whom he never heard back, with the succinct subtitle “having dealt with a point infarct”. I had to look that up, but this piece feels more substantial than the eradication of “a small localised area of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply”.
Strength comes to mind. Its engrossing, compelling nature is fitting to open an album of Saarelaht originals that is often robust and — even in its understated parts — retains a certain directness and brawn. The composer regards it as a snapshot of the trio, formed 20 years earlier, in transition.
As in his 2010 quartet album Fiveways, with Niko Schauble on drums, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Julien Wilson on sax, Saarelaht honours the departed. Five-nineteen is revisited for bassist Stuart Speed, Liminal is for drummer Peter Jones and Ivory Cutlery is for Scottish poet, comic author and songwriter Ivor Cutler. The album notes also mention Gil Askey, who died in April.
Liminal was also a live recording, this time at Bennetts Lane in October 2013 at the Esto-Cubist Jazz Festival and this time with Philip Rex on double bass joining Schauble and Saarelaht, the trio responsible for Fridays, Late.
This is a superb line-up. Rex’s inventive excellence is on display especially in the title track and alone in the opening of Five-nineteen, which develops swing powerful enough to qualify as a form of renewable energy. Trio members demonstrate empathy, yet preserve their independence, but the result is always cohesive.
Then Again, inspired by Andrea Keller‘s take on a Bela Bartok composition, allows Saarelaht room for expansive, yet intricate and light reflections. Splendidly laid back Ivory Cutlery again exhibits delicate finery on the keyboard followed by spacious, strong bass.
The final, and longest, track on an album that seems to end too soon, is Fiveways. It gathers intensity on a slow burn before exemplary stick work by Schauble that understandably draws applause, fades back and then gathers force again as this trio grabs and holds us in thrall until the end.
During a couple of long drives recently in remote Western Australia, Liminal was played repeatedly on the rental car stereo. It was sustaining and kept me from succumbing to sleep on the long, straight roads.