This is an album that creeps up on the ear, and like a ocean tide slowly overtaking the shore, before one knows it, the music has completely immersed the listener. For Momentus, Michael Webster has assembled a strong group to perform his original compositions, and the choice of personnel pays off big time. For this is something of an alternate reality of a modern jazz recording… music with a sense of shifting phases just off the fringes of the expected. And as several of this album’s personnel have proven on other recordings, this hazy medium is where they excel.
The music on Momentus presents itself with ambient textures that reveal their substantive side in sneaks and peeks. This approach suits Dingman’s style perfectly, as he’s previously displayed a talent for eliciting a dreamy atmosphere from his vibes. And while Lewis does have some combustible moments on guitar, like “Train Song,” his performance just further proves the hypothesis that guitar-vibes pairings are the perfect synthesis of bright heat and icy warmth. And Webster utilizes his sax to wrap those two up with a bow while simultaneously guiding the ensemble through each song.
Jensen and Sturm pick their spots on trumpet and bass. Of particular interest is the interplay between Jensen’s trumpet soaring over top of Dingman’s methodically constructed vibraphone rhythms. Equally compelling is the engine-caboose effect of Schonig’s drums often meeting the charge of Webster’s sax while Sturm’s bass trails off the sentences off Dingman’s vibes. When those two effects work in tandem, even better the results.
The tune “Beam Me Up” is a notch more upbeat than the other album tunes, and it gives the artists an opportunity to step up and solo a bit. There gets a point during this tune that the album threatens to break the album’s overall ambient texture, but then Dingman meshes into a Jensen solo with a frenetic wave of vibes that transforms into a near drone, and that combo snaps the song into place. And not even the heat brought by guitar and sax just after can do anything to break it.
The title-track is a breakthrough moment for the album. Appearing half-way through the album’s span, it encapsulates much of what has come before and how the album will continue. A driving tempo that plays out like a lazy drive through the countryside, vibes and sax construct layers of repetition that change incrementally while trumpet arcs overhead in a path that drums etch into the ground, and bass and guitar frame the song at opposite edges. The volume and tempo rises and peaks and recedes and quiets. There is a sense of unfinished thoughts, as the ensemble changes direction before waves crest. And it’s the amalgamation of that series of unfinished thoughts that coalesces into a breathtaking mosaic, delivered in a soft and unassuming way.
Nifty how “Train Song,” with its heavy reliance on melodic and harmonic development contrasts with the rhythm-first approach of “Train Song Reprise.”
The album opens and closes with tunes that drift across the room. “First Sunrise” gives hints of things to come.. a little thunder here, a little serenity there, slow loping notes on sax and trumpet contrasting with a rapid pace by bass and drums. Whereas on album closer “Simple Wish,” the ensemble brings a sense of finality to the proceedings… a definitive touch.
An album that slowly unfolds, revealing its excellence in its own time and with a soft touch. It’s not a recording that will require much patience to connect with, but I highly recommend sticking around for awhile until it does finally make that solid first impression.