Shawn Lovato Quintet: Cycles of Animation
Skirl Records

On his debut album, Brooklyn bassist Shawn Lovato successfully achieves his primary goal: to, in his own words, create a “complete musical ecosystem.” To that end, he uses rhythmic and melodic tropes associated with contemporary jazz to explore myriad ensemble colours and present possible ways by which the quintet's players might interpret the material he's written. If such a description sounds a tad clinical on paper, the visceral music on Cycles of Animation is anything but. Ably abetted by alto saxist Loren Stillman, guitarist Brad Shepik, pianist Santiago Leibson, and drummer Chris Carroll, the acoustic bassist has produced a compelling recording featuring eight Lovato originals, three of them short movements from a suite for bass, drums, and piano.

Indicative of the compositional sensibility in play, the opening “Loose Noodle” makes a strong case for Lovato as both writer and player. Having been introduced arrestingly by monotone accents spearheaded by Stillman, the piece sees the bassist and drummer enter with gyrating patterns that in counterpoint to the staccato accents swing with rhythmic mobility—cycles of animation indeed. Soon enough the performance relaxes slightly, with the ensemble settling into a supple pulse and Shepik dishing out the album's first solo. From then on, the quintet confidently advances through various episodes, first revisiting the opening section and then slowing dramatically for a duo sequence that has Stillman extemporizing alongside the pianist. As episodic as such a description might make “Loose Noodle” seem, in practice the parts fit snugly together, especially when transitions are effected so smoothly. Taken a considerably slower pace, “Static Phases Illuminated” allows the musicians' individual colours to be appreciated at a less hurried pace. Lovato, Leibson, and Carroll here provide a solid ground for Shepik and Stillman, who together voice the tune's angular theme whilst also working in respective solos. At album's end, “Unplugged Slug” opts for an even slower tempo, with this time the front-line voicing one of the album's most enticing themes.

With Carroll serving up classic, ‘60s-styled rhythmning, “Brain Drain” dives into bop territory, a prime showcase for the bassist to animate his bandmates with driving lines. Here and elsewhere, Shepik is his usual commanding self, seizing the opportunity to reconfirm his status as one of New York's go-to axe-wielders, and Stillman likewise elevates the material with imaginative soloing. “7th Street Jig” sees the quintet return to the intricate structures of “Loose Noodle,” this time led by Leibson's maze-like swirl and followed by flurries of interaction between the sax, guitar, and bass. The three “Animated Cycle” ruminations lend the recording an elegant, chamber-styled feel in reconfiguring the quintet into piano trio form; not surprisingly, the move opens up more space for the musicians to maneuver within and demonstrate their attentive support of each other's playing.

Having worked as a member of the contemporary ensemble Hotel Elefant with seminal figures such as John Luther Adams, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, the New York-bred Lovato brings a broad range of experience to this quintet endeavour. That breadth manifests itself in compositions that deftly integrate generous amounts of improvised playing into memorable melody-driven frameworks. As a debut recording, Cycles of Animation impresses as a preternaturally mature statement.

November 2017