CD Review: Precarious Towers, Ten Stories

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“Ten Stories” by Precarious Towers is more than an album; it’s a collective musical odyssey that unites five exceptionally talented musicians into a Midwestern all-star quintet. Born amidst the pandemic’s uncertain times, this album, released on September 1, 2023, stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and creative synergy.

The ensemble is an assemblage of top-tier artists, each bringing their unique flair to the musical tapestry. Alto saxophonist and flutist Sharel Cassity, hailing from Chicago, is a veteran in the jazz scene, recognized as a “Rising Star Alto Saxophone” by Downbeat Magazine for 12 consecutive years. Pianist Johannes Wallmann, based in Madison, WI, has a remarkable record with ten critically acclaimed albums as a leader. The ensemble is further enriched by vibraphonist Mitchell Shiner, drummer Devin Drobka from Milwaukee, and bassist John Christensen.

The first ventures of this quintet were born from the pandemic’s unexpected hiatus, presenting an opportunity for these highly sought-after musicians to delve into a new musical venture. This fertile ground allowed them to create their eponymous debut album, and the creative momentum led them to embark on the ambitious project of “Ten Stories.”

The beauty of this album lies in its collaborative essence. Each member of the band contributes a piece, resulting in a collection of self-contained yet interconnected musical stories. The album opens with Cassity’s “Journeyer,” a composition born from the relentless life of touring, evoking a sense of being in-between, a theme that echoes through the entire album.

Wallmann’s “Same River, Once” is an intriguing journey through quirky melodies, driven by a catchy groove and punctuated by ample space for improvisation. Shiner, in “Hutcherspired,” masterfully reworks Bobby Hutcherson’s composition, taking it on a slower, meditative path, allowing each instrument to resonate and shine.

The album’s stories unfold, each offering a unique perspective and musical journey. Christensen’s “Purpley” delves into a film noir feeling, a piece that captivates without the need for lyrics. Drobka’s “Non-non” reflects his Zen practice, providing an intriguingly different experience each time it’s played.

Cassity’s “Tone Poem,” composed in the serene deserts of Doha, Qatar, is a tranquil journey, invoking a sense of isolation yet imbued with a drive to move forward. Christensen’s “Vega” pays homage to Carl Sagan’s mythical journeys, while Shiner’s “Whistle in the Wind” stands as a tribute to lost loved ones, embracing motifs that echo through the composition.

“Ten Stories” is a profound testament to the band’s collective creativity. Each story, meticulously composed and performed, adds a unique layer to the metaphorical towers that stand as a symbol of their collective musical strength. The album, a work of joyful abandon and musical risk-taking, showcases a band firmly anchored in the foundation of joy, collaboration, and friendship.

In conclusion, “Ten Stories” is a splendid outing from Precarious Towers, a quintet that has found their collective voice and promises many more musical tales to come. Each track, a story in itself, invites listeners to traverse a sonic landscape woven with creativity, authenticity, and a shared love for music. This album is a delightful exploration into the amalgamated brilliance of gifted musicians uniting for a common artistic cause.

Track Listing:
01. Journeyer 5:16 | 02. Same River, Once 5:51 | 03. Hutcherspired 5:41 | 04. Nice Day 4:29 | 05. Purpley 4:33 | 06. Non-Non 3:59 | 07. Tone Poem 4:45 | 08. Vega 4:04 | 09. Whistle in the Wind 7:31 | 10. Non-Non Outro 1:59

Sharel Cassity – alto saxophone | Mitchell Shiner – vibraphone | Johannes Wallmann – piano | John Christensen – bass | Devin Drobka – drums

Release Date: 1 September 2023
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Shifting Paradigm Records

Last modified: November 7, 2023