Just three years out of the Berklee College of Music, pianist and composer Julian Shore has figured out a couple of important things pretty early on in his career: mind your melodies and present them in the best possible light. Continuing to show advanced maturity first revealed on his debut for Away Places at age twenty-two, Shore leads a rotating cast of musicians around the core trio of himself, Phil Donkin (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums) for his newest album, Filaments.
Shore finds plenty of melodically-inclined sidemen to bring out the best in his compositions: guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jeff Miles are real pros at that, as is the hot young tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger. But Shore is getting it done primarily another way: with a vocalist…or two. Alexa Barchini has assumed a large role in Shore’s recordings, devising lyrics to go along with some of his music and singing them. Israeli vocalist (and guitarist) Shelly Tzarafi adds a second, wordless vocal to half of the ten songs on Filaments (Barchini sings on six of them), and often sings along with Barchini to bolster the human voice element even further.
But Shore remains the main attraction. It’s not just his piano playing style, although he is a rather cerebral player who is much more interested in precision and getting out of the way of his songs (and allowing everyone else to shine) over flashing any technique for the sake of doing so. Shore is also a thoughtful composer, who’s willing to stick in a different, relevant chord to keep the progression from getting too predictable.
Thus, Shore pulls in a lot of elements together to get his songs rendered just right, evident from the start with “Grey Light, Green Lily.” A folk-ish strain that combined with Rosenwinkel’s rich tone and Tzarafi’s lyric-free vocal is evocative of Brian Blade’s Fellowship (of which Rosenwinkel was a member). With their help, it’s easy to recognize a harmony that’s carefully constructed, even including a distinct coda. Barchini takes her turn on the next tune, “Made Very Small” (see video of live performance above), and though she is singing verses, her lines pairs up with Rosenwinkel’s guitar, so she serves a dual purpose of a deliverer of lyrics and an additional front line instrument. On the third cut “Big Bad World” and the next two after that one, both Barchini and Tzarafi contributes their voices, but it’s most effective on the wordless “World,” where they intertwine like a sax/trumpet front line. Shore and Miles follow with their own impressive display of interplay.
We’re treated to Shore’s piano soloing abilities on the ballad “Whisper,” as he nimbly works the intervals between the notes well. Donkin contributes a lilting bass solo, too. “Give” is the most instantly likeable song on the album. This time, Shore brings in a real horn front line of an alto sax, baritone and trumpet to deliver the theme over Crane’s crisp groove, and Rosenwinkel is on board one more time to hand out another tasty guitar solo. Conversely, “Misdirection/Determined” is stripped down to Barchini and Shore alone, and “Like A Shadow,” featuring Shore on electric piano, is mildly suggestive of Brazilian jazz; Barchini and Tzarafi again combine and contribute to that Brazilian vibe. Preminger’s lustful sax dominates the minor key gem “Venus,” a esoteric tone poem reminiscent of a former mentor of Shore, Wayne Shorter.
Shorter once advised to the young Shore that “nobody’s lived your life, find a way to show what’s happened to you.” With a sharply defined approach to making music that’s personal and already distinct two albums in, Shore appears to have taken that advice to heart.
Filaments went on sale September 18, by Tone Rogue Records. Visit Julian Shore’s website for more info.