BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Nicolas Masson has been all over ECM Records’ recent works – not as musician, but as photographer of many of their distinctive album covers. For his first ECM album under his own name (after two LPs with the trio Third Reel), the Swiss reedsman renames his longtime band Parallels and gives it airily arranged and classically-informed compositions to stimulate improvisation without chaos energy. Whether blowing tenor sax, soprano or clarinet, Masson prefers a stark tone and clean lines, encouraging his musicians to leave as much space as he does in the tracks. In that sense, pianist Collin Vallon is his perfect foil, as he lays down a chordal foundation, rather than running up and down his keyboard. Masson’s veteran compadre/bassist Patrice Moret, who also plays in Vallon’s trio, often finds himself up front when it’s time for solos – a status that suits his particularly melodic style. Drummer Lionel Friedli, meanwhile, keeps to the background, letting his cymbals drive the music subtly and letting the beat percolate without boiling over. Whether essaying enigmatic melodics in “Philae” and “Almost Forty” or exploring the arrangements’ well-lit corners in “Blurred” and “Jura,” the Masson Quartet stays elegant, channeling its passion into the right notes at the right time in the right way.
DOWNLOAD: “Philae,” “Almost Forty,” “Blurred”