4 1/2 STARS
As intimated by the gray horizons on this album's cover, there's a silvery beauty and dusky design element at play in Epoch. Vibraphonist Dan McCarthy, a Canadian-turned-Brooklynite with a keen appreciation for suspense and patient development, tests the boundaries and borders of shadows and shape with stunning results. Elevated by the pillars of mystique and mournfulness, this statement proves beautifully gripping.
Working without drums, and tapping sui generis souls like guitarist Ben Monder, violinist Mark Feldman, and bassist Steve Swallow to bring his music to life, McCarthy is able to soften the bounds of time and summon both allure and unease. That's evident right from the start, as simple lyricism gives way to jittery energy on "A Dream, Awake." Leveraging a certain amount of stasis and stress with twitchy touches, the quartet artfully works the seam separating fantasy and nightmare. The follow-up—"Fugitive Epoch"—maintains a doleful demeanor and an ominous outlook, using Swallow's (occasional) throb, some angular movement, and the passing baleful breezes to make its case. While those opening tracks lean toward gloam and gloom, what immediately follows—"Softly She Sings Her Song"—invites light from varied angles. McCarthy's vibraphone carries a tender glow, Feldman's bright explorations figure prominently into the journey, and Monder and Swallow prove masterful in their support.
McCarthy's curious nature carries the music forward at every turn, but never more so than on "Desert Entrance," a miniature introducing his direct engagement with Feldman's violin at the outset of "Strange Medicine On The Desert." While a feeling of uncertainty looms large in the message, the music itself presents a bonded brotherhood locked into every little transition and using subtlety as its greatest strength. Ending with "A Dream, Asleep," McCarthy looks back toward the beginning. It's a disquieting departure that's perfectly in keeping with the tone of its matching bookend and this entrancing album as a whole.