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Jazz: Avant-Garde Jazz Avant Garde: Free Improvisation Moods: Type: Experimental
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by Fantastic Merlins

Intensely cinematic and entirely unique, the rare beauty of The Fantastic Merlins begins with the group's unusual blend of cello, saxophone, bass, and drums.
Genre: Jazz: Avant-Garde Jazz
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1. Lenny The Fantastic Merlins
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5:35 $0.99
2. Line The Fantastic Merlins
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8:43 $0.99
3. Look Around The Fantastic Merlins
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6:54 $0.99
4. Runoff Water The Fantastic Merlins
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5. I Was Behind the Couch All the Time The Fantastic Merlins
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
The Fantastic Merlins are: Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan, cello; Brian Roessler, bass; Federico Ughi, drums; Nathan Hanson, tenor saxophone.

Intensely cinematic and entirely unique, the rare beauty of New York and Minneapolis based instrumental combo The Fantastic Merlins begins with the group's unusual blend of cello, bass, saxophone, and drums. Replete with stunning dynamics and melodies that range from playful to mournful, the resulting style encompasses avantgarde jazz and chamber music alike, as well as everything in between: classical-yet contemporary experimentalism, complex rhythms, and breathtaking improvisation.

For Rome-to-NYC transplant Federico Ughi (drums), even the ideas he commits to memory or shares in rehearsal are ultimately "a ramp to this improvisation," and Jersey City saxophonist Nathan Hanson insists the structural flexibility suits the group just fine: "Some pieces are very similar from one performance to the next; some are never the same twice."

While this kind of genre-bending anti-pop typically caters to the jazz or classical crowd, St. Paul's Brian Roessler (bass) has noticed The Fantastic Merlins are already attracting a widely diverse audience. "A lot of people out there seem to be hungry for the kind of thing we're doing. Our goal is to connect with these people."

The Fantastic Merlins formed in early 2005 as the result of a couple of informal playing sessions: The previous summer, Roessler recruited longtime friend and collaborator Hanson and Minneapolis cellist Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan to play a few gigs as a trio. Agreeing they were on to something special, Hanson called on Ughi to complete the group, and everyone rendezvoused in Minneapolis to play some shows and track a record.

Since the foursome came together on the strength of artistic reputation and shared interest with little regard for the breakdown of instrumentation, the sound that emerged was a discovery in its own right. "People have commented on the auspicious interaction between cello and saxophone, or between cello and bass," says Ferrier- Ultan. "Their timbres blend so beautifully you can't always tell which instrument is playing what."

According to Roessler, this kind of seamless acoustic integration is precisely what The Fantastic Merlins are after. "We all seem to have a unified vision of what kind of textures and feelings we want to create, without ever having to talk about it." In the end, the music says more than enough.


Reviews


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Exclaim! Canada's Music Authority

A meaty, full-bodied presence that rewards repeated listening.
This 31-minute EP is a promising first release from this Minneapolis/NYC unit. The tenor/cello/bass/drums configuration gives the five pieces on the disc a rich palette from which to paint a diverse sonic canvas. The funky bite of saxophonist Nathan Hanson’s “Lenny” opens the set. Insistent drums from Rome-born Federico Ughi propel the strong tenor line, while the pitch-bending cello melody by Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan takes an exotic path leading to a striking solo culmination. The next three compositions, two by Ughi and one by bassist Brian Roessler, produce a triple view of thematic chamber improvisation, freely stated unison or harmonised melodies slowly unfolding with tinges of Jan Gabarek and Albert Ayler filling out the moody similar themes. Hanson’s “I Was on the Couch All the Time” brings the disc to a muscular close. The resonant blend of tenor sax, cello and arco bass imbue the group’s sound with a meaty, full-bodied presence that rewards repeated listening.

Massimo Ricci

Debut EP for a quartet playing an exquisite assortment of contemporary styles. D
Debut EP for a quartet playing an exquisite assortment of contemporary styles and whose lineup comprises Nathan Hanson (tenor sax), Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan (cello), Brian Roessler (bass) and Federico Ughi (drums). Although some incontrovertible influences are caught here and there - Curlew circa Tom Cora, to name one - these people know what they're doing; desolate themes, vigorous lines and engaging improvisations are intertwined with delicate concentration and a masterful pacing of every section, the tension/release ratio remaining at a constantly balanced grade. On top of everything, the musicians look for a collective coherence rather than straining themselves to put their excellent technical value in front of the listener, which is a major plus in this 30-minute CD anticipating a full-length album that I'll be very curious to listen to.