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The season has changed. Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek, Matthew Sage, and Patrick Shiroishi continue forward with what follows 2020’s Fuubutsushi. Here, it is a new year, and it is time to shake the demons off and make a fresh start. Setsubun is the Winter chapter in the cycle (yes, Spring and Summer will come one day), but don’t conflate this “winter music” with the holidays; this is music for the stretch between January and the first peals of spring. The days in this chasm that may be getting longer, however slowly, but the nights are still long. The air is crisp. The natural world lays dormant, but the imagination flutters.
These four players have learned more about each other since the amber nostalgia of Fuubutsushi and here they are more comfortable taking risks, ramping up, and pulling back. Prymek’s guitar and bass lines offer a fundamental structure on many of the tunes, in his distinct style that is both uniquely folky but patiently soulful. He more often opts for electric guitar, slide, shimmering fingerpicking, and those touches feel like frost in an empty tree canopy. Shiroishi’s crystalline voice sets a tone on the first track, but from there, he spends his time painting scenes with his saxophones and clarinet. The departure from his more oblique solo works into harmonious melody in this combination showcases the incredible range and skill he possesses over his instruments. He is your breath on the air. Sage shifts from piano onto rhodes for this album, where he continues to split the difference between ambient minimalism and cool jazz vamping. His drumming takes a new presence here, with more pronounced rhythms, deceptive stutters, playful push and pull dynamics. He is the ice under your feet. Sometimes you almost have to catch yourself from slipping. Jusell’s violin continues to soar in the combination, often in conversation with Shiroishi’s horn. His playing is ornate but never flowery, expressive but never maudlin, sweet but never saccharine. He is that warmth we carry inside of us on those cold days.
Setsubun is the Japanese new year. February 2nd. Traditionally people celebrate by screaming in the streets, shooting off fireworks, making a collective ruckus to scare the demons of the year past away. If there aren’t demons to shake off… you must be from a different timeline. So, here is something for you and something for your demons too. Something to keep you warm until Spring arrives. Something warm, familiar, friendly, but fresh and full of possibilities. Happy New Year.