Art in Paradise: An Unfortunate Departure

Jazz drummer Alex Snydman is leaving the Valley after 12 years, and on the heels of producing his first CD as bandleader. The disc, Fortunate Action, is in many ways a stunner. It’s also the top-selling local album at Turn It Up in Northampton this week. Seven of its nine tracks are originals composed by various members of Snydman’s ensemble, including Snydman and pianists Chris Pattishall, Doug Abrams and Miro Sprague. He’s also joined by bassists Alec Derian and Tyler Heydolph and sax player Carl Clements.

The opening track, Pattishall’s “In Joy,” sprawls out in a calm, sophisticated splendor, driven by Pattishall’s piano. The tune offers a laid-back air that’s particular to jazz, occasionally using precipitous runs and fairly dissonant intervals in its chords to create a nonetheless relaxed and contemplative mood.

The second track, Doug Abrams “Cross-Fade” is a beautiful combination of fast-moving piano melody and an insistent, expectant bass-and-piano groove that really ties the piece together. Snydman’s drumming here and throughout the album walks that fruitful line between driving a song and playing with expectation through habits like dropping emphases in unexpected corners of the rhythm. He’s never so far gone that the groove of a tune exits, anchoring his splashes of cymbal and more complex parts with a strong downbeat or quick return to the rhythmic underpinnings of the melody.

At some points in the album, especially those with the addition of saxophonist Clements, the album’s feel becomes quicker, almost frantic. All the same, Snydman seems drawn more toward the contemplative; the title track is a gorgeous piece, full of quiet spaces, an exploration of the notion of “fortunate action,” which Snydman explains in the liner notes as “the exponential positive ripples that occur when we listen to our Inner Voice that is encouraging us to pursue our dreams and make the strong yet sometimes difficult decision to follow a path of Love, and synergistic co-creation.” In the case of the tune “Fortunate Action,” co-creation was indeed the order of the day—Snydman brought his initial ideas to pianist Sprague, and the collaboration yielded spectacular results. The piece is the album’s high point, a moving, subtle exploration that tries on several flavors in its varied parts before ending in the same airy voice with which it begins.

It’s great to hear this collection of local players entering that rarefied territory of original jazz composition rather than merely resting in the shade of well-worn standards. The results are refreshing and well-played throughout.

Snydman explains that he’s leaving the area for Valencia, Calif., where he’ll pursue an M.A. in jazz performance at the California Institute of the Arts. Here’s hoping he returns with more of the same adventurous musical spirit his first recording clearly displays.

Author: James Heflin

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