Scott DuBois – Winter Light (2015)

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The guitarist, composer and musical conceptionalist Scott DuBois is a former David Liebman sideman who the New York Times describes as having “exploratory yet melodic sensibilities.” His approach to the electric guitar is to mine the full range of emotions offered by it; from the impressionistic to the raw, DuBois’ unique voice is fully holistic with his composition style.

Winter Light is his sixth album since 2005, and his first for ACT Music, reflecting the strong connection DuBois sees between visual art and audio art. Like the great French painter Claude Monet, who was known to paint on several canvases at the same time in order to capture the passage of the sun’s light over the course of the day, so does DuBois trace the shifting hues of a cold winter day with sound. As such, his compositions evolve instead of returning to a previously introduced idea. They’re loosely constructed motifs that give players wide latitude and put sentiment above all else. That, with his extended chords and melodies, results in music that has more than a passing resemblance to John Abercrombie’s near-masterpiece 1992 offering for ECM, November.

It’s also not hard to miss the resemblance when the guitar/reeds/acoustic bass/drums instrumental lineup that DuBois has used for a decade is virtually the same, especially when Ullmann mans a bass clarinet he matches in emotion to fellow European John Surman at his most impassioned.

“First Light Tundra” evolves at almost a glacier pace, but the patience is rewarded. Free remarks ending dramatically on a predetermined chord intrude on extended floating motifs, and when things settle down again Ullmann exploits the opportunity to deliver an aching expression on the bottom-heavy clarinet.

“Early Morning Forest” tosses out enough interesting ideas to make it a suite. Morgan’s dancing bass over Osgood’s rumbling drums set a bustling motion for DuBois skitters and swings, walking the fence between jazz and rock in perfect communion over the groove. Suddenly, song slides into a peaceful state, broken up by Ullmann’s pleadings on bass clarinet, and the momentum is regained but at a different tempo and motif. Morgan again plays a key role, for “Late Morning Snow,” keeping pulse while offering lead lines against DuBois’ twinkling backdrop and Ullmann and Osgood roaming around loose.

By the time we reach “Noon White Mountain,” the atmosphere has turned from darkened to bright: Ullmann is playing a trill on sax over a buoyant, busy swing, moving into a pattern of positivity, then displaying his inside/outside technique and safely landing onto a softer pattern midway through. As intense solos by Ullmann, Morgan and DuBois are carried out, the song enters into a free mode that enables the fullest expressions of each. At the eleven-minute mark a new motif is introduced, hopeful and recapturing the beginning momentum, underscored by Osgood’s commanding roars underneath. “Afternoon Fog” is downtime between high energy tracks, a single chord harmony for most part, over a slow march.

A blizzard of beats from Osgood initially powers “Evening Blizzard” as DuBois distributes a flurry of notes. The unsettled rhythm section plays to Ullmann’s sax more than to a meter, but listen to how DuBois ever so subtly modulates his shading and everyone else immediately adjusts. When DuBois asserts explicit control, he goes into out-bop mode. And finally, “Night Tundra” signals the quiet ending of a day, built on a single note through a hushed setting as Ullmann almost imperceptibly leaves light footprints.

From the first awakening passages to the final winding down and all the impassioned moments in-between, Winter Light is always going for something beyond just songs and solos. With his composing pen, leadership and guitar, Scott DuBois has painted a Monet.

Visit Scott DuBois’ website to find out more.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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