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Jacob Garchik's boldly mixed 'Assembly' is quintessential COVID-era jazz

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says a lot of recent jazz reflects the COVID era - a proliferation of solo albums, musicians improvising together over the internet and big bands recording one musician at a time. Kevin says New York trombonist Jacob Garchik's latest album is the kind of oddball project someone stuck at home with time on their hands would dream up.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "PASTICHE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: On Jacob Garchik's album "Assembly," the music often takes an unexpected turn, as when a trombone romp gets interrupted by frantic chipmunk music. In 2021, the trombonist and four colleagues recorded a socially distant studio jam session, with each player isolated in the room and in the mix. Then Garchik took those clean tracks and manipulated them, messing with the sound quality, making bold edits, stripping instruments out of a passage or dropping someone's part or gesture into a new context. For the track "Bricolage," Garchik cut up and looped a Thomas Morgan bass line into little, repeating vamps.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "BRICOLAGE")

WHITEHEAD: Three months after their jam session, Jacob Garchik brought the players back to the studio to overdub material he'd written in the meantime, orchestrating the music after the fact, sometimes with a light touch. Wait for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "REVERIE")

WHITEHEAD: At the overdub session, Garchik capitalized on the wide range of textures and sonorities that Sam Newsome gets on soprano saxophone. For "Fantasia," Newsome fit his mouthpiece into a plastic hose to blow throbbing low notes like an Australian didgeridoo or a failing air conditioner.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "FANTASIA")

WHITEHEAD: Dan Weiss on drums - for me, that's too bizarre not to like. Producers often strive to make overdubs inconspicuous. Jacob Garchik's disruptions and titles - like "Pastiche," "Collage," "Bricolage" and album title "Assembly" - all call attention to the fabrication process. For the track "Idee Fixe," Garchik took a skipping record lick the pianist Jacob Sacks improvised and built a loopy piece around it. Some edits are seamless and some you can't miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "IDEE FIXE")

WHITEHEAD: Manipulations and interruptions aside, there's a lot of good, straight-ahead jazz blowing on the album "Assembly" and some sublime moments. On "Collage," a layer of horns periodically descends on the improvising, an atmospheric haze recalling jazz arranger Gil Evans.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "COLLAGE")

WHITEHEAD: All music reflects its time some kind of way. Jacob Garchik's "Assembly" is quintessential COVID-era jazz, starting with a socially distanced session and then proceeding to his mad scientist scheming and isolation. It's music for an era when we don't know where or when the next disruption will arrive, and we value any calm interludes in between.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOB GARCHIK'S "FANFARE")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Assembly" by trombonist Jacob Garchik. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, Rafael Agustin, who wrote for the comedy drama TV series "Jane The Virgin," will tell us about growing up as the son of undocumented immigrants. His parents were doctors in Ecuador. But after coming to the U.S., they worked at a car wash and Kmart to get by, while Rafael learned English, made friends and became his parents' translator. He's written a new memoir called "Illegally Yours." I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF PONCHO SANCHEZ'S "GIANT STEPS")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF PONCHO SANCHEZ'S "GIANT STEPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.