Tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine has just released his first album as a leader, Quartet: Vortices. (Get it from Amazon.) It features alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Quin Kirchner. Each of these musicians has earned a solid reputation as a leader and a sideman on the Chicago jazz and avant-garde music scene, and Lepine himself has also contributed to albums by indie rock acts like Cursive, Iron and Wine, and Poi Dog Pondering.

All 10 compositions on Vortices were written by Lepine. The heads frequently feature winding melodic lines that showcase alto-tenor interplay with Mazzarella (who leads his own trio). The bassist and drummer caper about on the uptempo tracks, churning the ground in a hypnotic and captivating way on the slower ones. The title piece has an aching melancholy that recalls Ornette Coleman‘s “Lonely Woman,” while “Solo for Bollo” is a bluesy strut with an almost second-line rhythm.

The track we’re premiering today, “Even Yeti’s Ready for Springtime,” has a jumpy, Ornette-ish melody, and showcases Kirchner’s forceful, loping rhythm and Sommers’ powerful, almost strummed bass—the drummer stages a brief eruption at the beginning of the piece, after which the bassist bounces merrily along for nearly two minutes, not so much soloing as exploring variations on the primary line. When Mazzarella jumps in, he’s sliding all over the place like a man trying to dance in a puddle of oil, his phrases zooming up and down and all around, circling the melody like a nervous bird seeking a place to touch down. Lepine’s version of the tune, by contrast, is bluesier and more patient. He occasionally squeals or goes slightly outside the margins, but for the most part he’s the voice of reason, between the two of them. And when they come back together for the coda, it’s sudden, but somehow perfect. This is exciting, vital music by a hot young band.

Phil Freeman

Stream “Even Yeti’s Ready for Springtime” below:

Get Quartet: Vortices from Amazon

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