NYC-based reedist Matt Bauder continues his stream of impressive conceptual chamber-jazz releases with Paper Gardens. Inspired by an art exhibition of construction paper gardens by elementary school children, Bauder set out to create an album of similarly intuitive and imaginative textures. Featuring fellow reedist Matana Roberts, cellist Loren Dempster and bassist Reuben Radding, Paper Gardens aligns Braxtonian composition techniques, an emphasis on autumnal amoebic tones and a improvisational vibe that could be described as not being afraid to color outside the lines.
The four instrumentalists (Bauder splits time between tenor sax and clarinet, Roberts between alto sax and clarinet, and Radding on double bass) occupy a very similar timbre throughout the record; they move en masse rather than a set up for soloing and support. In fact, it’s often hard to separate the tones of each particular instrument letting the music become a constantly shifting organic being in itself. Bauder and Roberts, both of whom still sound more akin to the meditative and grainy Chicago jazz scene than the typical bustle of most NYC jazz, especially gel. Their playing is often simultaneous, adjoining to create mercurial chords, a la Rahsaan Roland Kirk at his most cerebral.
The landscape of Paper Gardens’ 11 tracks varies mostly in textural approaches. Bauder experiments with a number of compositional techniques, from rather simple tonal pieces that expand and contract to tightly knit ones that emphasize the players’ talent for quick, interweaving and exacting runs. The mood remains much more somber than you’d expect from an inspiration of brightly colored paper gardens designed by kids, but the emphasis seems to be more on the instinctual vibrancy and disregard for long-established motifs Bauder derived from their intuitive planning.
Paper Gardens feels cohesive and directional despite being rather amorphous. Bauder’s individual musical ideas come together nicely with the quietly affecting sequencing and the comfortable interaction of his accompaniment. Like the children’s individual pieces of naïve paper architecture, Bauder is able to arrange and assemble his experimental compositions into a small, realized space that produces a fertile and welcoming environment.