Recording of the Week: Aaron Irwin Quartet, A Room Forever

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Aaron Irwin, clarinet

Matthew McDonald, trombone

Pete McCann, guitar

Thomson Kneeland, bass

This is an ingratiating and wise album. The aesthetic organization for the music comes from short stories by Breece Dexter John Pancake, stories about the hills and hollows of poor, white West Virginia.

What impresses me about this is both the lack of sentimentality and the complete avoidance of any narrative idea in the music. The stories may have informed Irwin’s imagination, but what he produced is a coherent personal expression. With no drummer, he works with rhythm through hints of different dance styles, from jazz to latin. The sound is an appealing Americana of the mind, the kind of thing that’s familiar from Bill Frisell, but in this case with a more abstract feeling—this isn’t folk or roots music, but all the tracks sound like something that might be made on the porch or in the parlor.

Fine playing from the band, both realizing Irwin’s arrangements and counterpoint, and in providing stimulating solos and accompaniment. Irwin especially is affecting, especially on the closing ballad, “The Mark.” A quiet record that leaves a lingering impression.

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I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.