NIGHT TREE – Dedications (Night Tree Records, NT02)

DedicationsNight Tree is an American/Swedish sextet, all alumni of the New England Conservatory. The group has worked extensively with US-Irish band Solas, with founder Séamus Egan producing both their albums so far. Dedications is Night Tree’s second album, commemorating places and people of significance to them.

The unique set-up of saxophone, accordion and percussion supplementing a classical string trio alerts the listener that this album will be something out of the ordinary. From beginning to end, nothing goes quite where you imagine it will, each track a travelogue of global musical styles drawn from an extensive repertoire. As well as many shades of classical music, from chamber to avant-garde/minimalist, there are rich seams of jazz, traditional and world music. The Celtic influence features strongly throughout, particularly evident in tracks like ‘The Last Day Of Summer’ and ‘Blue-Eyed Sailor/The Piano Room’.

The nine-and-a-half minute superbly-titled ‘Elvish Warfare Suite No.1’ sets the tone for what to expect. Shifting constantly, from moodily enticing accordion to a wave of fast strings over a muted percussive beat, this is a twisty-turny beast. A curving sax line gives way to a husky violin lamenting over a spare piano line before the mood becomes lithe and light once more, over a cidada-like swish of percussion. The return of the sax lends an unsettling shift to a cooler angularity, concluding with heavy-bowed melancholy strings.

‘Oya’ culminates in African-sounding vocalisations, whilst ‘Baby Blue’ kicks off with doo-wop harmonies over plucked violin before taking a woozy turn past some metronomic strings. ‘The Girl In The White Dress’ continues with the Michael Nyman-esque strings, a slippery accordion leading off the main melodic line.

‘North Carolina Cottage’ begins with a cappella voice, instruments joining the off-beat in a flowing, jazz style, accompanied by a bleating sax. ‘Year With The Yeti/Wings From The North’ is a light, skipping melody with a nimble sax part and ‘Point Joe’ culminates in a sax coda of the main tune. Although the sax is used with great invention, it’s hard to shake off some of its 1980s connotations, which linger in the rather bland finale ‘Great Storm’.

Night Tree clearly relish playing with the possibilities of harmonics and composition, skilfully fusing unlikely musical bedfellows and taking their music to the edges of disconcerting atonality. They’re tightly attuned to each other’s playing, apparently even practising in darkness sometimes, so as to concentrate more. There’s a constant, fluid restlessness to the music, yet it remains highly listenable and enjoyable. Someone should probably tell the band’s faces, though: their cover photos look like they just got a nasty tax bill.

Su O’Brien

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‘Oya’ – live: