Fired by a shared passion for challenging but engaging music, Earprint has quickly forged a sound with what its members refer to as an "aggressively melodic, shamelessly youthful approach." The explosive quartet's self-titled debut, due out October 21 on Endectomorph Music, displays creative invention, intricate composition, and raw combustibility in equal measure.
The chordless collective brings together four musicians from diverse backgrounds: saxophonist Kevin Sun comes from picturesque New Jersey and trumpeter Tree Palmedo from the grayer Pacific Northwest. Bassist Simón Willson hails from Santiago, Chile, while drummer Dor Herskovits was born and raised in Israel. Despite their far-flung histories, the quartet established an immediate rapport while studying together at Boston's New England Conservatory, and Sun encouraged them to work together - and to challenge one another.
"I wanted to put something together where I could really work on writing difficult music," Sun explains, a desire prompted by such inspirations as Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, John Hollenbeck, and Sun's mentor, saxophonist-composer Miguel Zenón. "One thing about being in school is that you can rehearse an insane amount; I could write music that was as hard as I wanted it to be and, eventually, we could make it happen."
Perhaps most impressive about the group's music is that, despite the level of virtuosity demanded to play it, listening to it is anything but an abstruse experience. All four members of Earprint contribute memorable tunes, whose hairpin twists and turns inspire spirited improvisations. The lack of a chordal instrument provides ample space and freedom, which the quartet seizes with bravado.
"We're all players that like to take chances and feel free to venture out to different places in the music, and that's really allowed when there's that space between us," says Herskovits. "After a while, it felt like we could play anything. Eventually it didn't matter if the music was complex or simple - it was all something that we could hear naturally and that felt amazing to play."
The darting horn lines of Sun's "Nonsense" open the album. Written years ago while the saxophonist was participating in the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in the scenic mountains of Alberta, Canada, the piece is a densely layered miniature that serves as a jaunty and odd-angled introduction to the quartet. It's followed by Herskovits's Ornette Coleman-inspired "Happy," where the punchy, speech-inspired melodies and whiplash shifts capture the titular mood, however idiosyncratically.
The title of Willson's "School Days" acknowledges Earprint's beginnings in the halls of NEC, but shares its name with a painting by the late Boston-based, African-American artist Allan Rohan Crite. The color and sense of movement in that piece was a direct model for Willson's taut, supple composition. Sun wrote "Boardroom" from a less obviously inspirational source: after playing a background music gig for a corporate function (hey, those student loans aren't gonna pay themselves), he found himself stuck listening to a litany of quarterly earnings and projected revenues, so he turned those droning numbers into a far more interesting musical equivalent.
Sun's meditative "The Holy Quiet" was inspired by the tragic shootings in Charleston; the piece captures the sorrow and anger invoked by the terrible incident with a percussive clamor featuring both Sun and Palmedo joining Herskovits, while Willson intones a harrowing bowed howl. A driving rock beat fuels Palmedo's more light-hearted tune "The Golden Girder Strikes Again," a fanfare for the "brutish elegance" of an imaginary supervillain whose body has been replaced by a mass of gold-plated support beams.
Sun's "Malingerer" is the album's most spacious piece, featuring a slowly accumulating melody and a languorous air but ending with an unexpectedly vigorous conclusion. The alternately methodical and frenetic "Clock Gears" is Herskovits's sonic portrait of the intermeshed workings of a clock mechanism, while the aptly named "Anthem" is the result of a task that Sun set for himself, scrawled in an old notebook and later rediscovered: to write an "anthemic, two-horn song." Voilà.
Sun's sprightly "Colonel" is named after his family's beloved Yorkshire Terrier, and greets the ear with the hopping, yipping brio of an excited Yorkie. Finally, Herskovits's "Six Nine" is indicative of the evolutionary paths that many of the band's tunes take, starting as a simple groove and growing in emotional and musical complexity to its current form.
In some ways, the members agree, the band itself is following a similar path, with the depth and profundity coming from the players rather than the page. "It's a little bit more balanced between things that are more challenging and things that are more free to play on, with a mixture of styles: free music, jazz, neo-classical, rock and roll, all kinds of stuff," Herskovits says. Sun adds, "In the beginning, I would write a 7-page score for a song that would be six minutes long. Gradually I ended up writing less and less, so by the time we got to the album I could just write one sheet and there would be enough material."
Maybe some of these discoveries have been made by composers before, but with each passing generation inspiration and urgency are found anew. Earprint declares the arrival of a band that's harnessed state-of-the-art composition and earthy tunefulness, with no sign of slowing down.