French-born jazz violinist Scott Tixier holds a wide-eyed fascination for his new home of Brooklyn, which is to be expected. For someone not born and raised there, and who came from a deeply artistic family to begin with, this borough or any part of the Big Apple can capture a visitor’s imagination with its hip pockets, down-trodden back alleys, and all of those human souls in between, colliding with one another during everyday life. A musician who knows Brooklyn too well would probably not consider writing a series of songs about what Tixier sees as a street bazaar existence. But ever since he was talked into immigrating to the states by none other than Mr. Pat Matheny, Scott Tixier has played up the romantic slices of life through gently contemporary jazz combo composition, culminating in Brooklyn Bazaar.
This is an album that by and large stays away from Mean Street, USA, instead concentrating on the charming aspects of urban life. The press release says that cat-creep opener “Keep in Touch” was inspired by a “previously unknown salutation”. Quaint, obscure, or both? It doesn’t matter because the pizzicato melody is something easily approachable, working hand-in-hand with guitarist Douglas Bradford’s clean sound. “Facing Windows” is meant to invoke Alfred Hitchcock’s fenestrated suspense, keeping the pot of tonality constantly stirred, never resolving. “Roach Dance” is about little, ugly unwanted tenants, but the music doesn’t sound especially agitated or pest-like. “Shopping with Mark F” is dedicated to violinist Mark Feldman. It must have been a fun and/or amusing shopping trip since Tixier saw fit to have pianist Jesse Elder break into a sleazy Fats Waller break shortly after the start.
Some ideas on Brooklyn Bazaar don’t come from New York specifically but from moving westward. “Arawaks” is written for the tribe that had the misfortune of first greeting Christopher Columbus upon his arrival to the Americas. Like “Roach Dance”, it’s not a very troubled piece, devoting itself to hovering lyricism. The one reason it happens to stands out on Brooklyn Bazaar is because of Emilie Weibel’s pure and unobtrusive vocal performance. And when meeting up with bassist Lonnie Plaxico, Tixier was introduced to the idea of “string theory”, using vibrating strings as a model for explaining the universe. From that came “String Theory”, a piece that starts out sounding like an abstract solo performance but gradually shifting gears to a full band performance with a simple and catchy melodic motif riding atop.
Brooklyn Bazaar is a gingerly written and performed debut album. Scott Tixier, for all his chops and ability to sniff out talented and professional sounding friends, has sculpted a jazz style that lacks more than it embodies. Even when the music is likely meant to be confrontational, it just isn’t. Tixier’s violin gently saws but never attacks. The songs, one meant to match the chaos of a raucous rooftop party and another to match the “aggressive and angular music of Kenny Garrett”, are too shy to make a lasting impression. The band plays evenly to a fault, preventing the music from achieving post-bop excitement or any kind of harmonic/discord nirvana. And Scott Tixier plays the violin like he’s afraid to let the cat out of the bag. Brooklyn Bazaar sounds like a point of transition, one that will probably be buried by better work in the future.
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