Four Letter Words is a trio consisting of tenor saxophonist Jake Wark, pianist Matt Piet and drummer Bill Harris, and Blow is their highly intelligent, extremely intense and deeply rewarding debut recording.
As usual, labels are almost useless. Their music manages to sound quite free while simultaneously being organized around motifs, if not full melodies. Aural imagery is strongly projected, with each track exploring a particular area of emotional complexity as well as creating an almost concrete listening space.
Piet sounds like the leader; his playing is very strong, particularly his left hand, which supplies the bottom normally given to the bass. His compositions make up half of the eight tracks. Wark's saxophone always has a high- pressure feel to it in its fullness and projection, even when he is not playing loudly. Harris is recorded back in the mix, but he is always felt, if not heard, as an equal voice in music that does not have, for the most part, a steady groove.
The album has a clearly conceived arc, with the short title tune, "Blow," beginning and ending the album. The word "blow" has many meanings (listed in the liner), with the most obvious here being play an instrument, not necessarily a horn. A concise compendium of Piet's compositional methodology and the band's sound, the tracks end before ever seeming to get going.
The interior tunes are all long (seven to over nine minutes) intense explorations, with the band in the end creating a recognizable sound, despite the differing emphases of each track. The middle three tracks, "Lugubrious" (Harris), "I Heard You Singing In A Tree" (Piet) and "The Vampire" (Wark) could be thought of as the core of the album, or at the very least that which is representative of the group.
The music on Blow can pin you back in your seat one moment and then turn on a dime to become beautiful. It is at turns funny, dangerous, overwhelming and in the end very rewarding listening for anyone who cares to take the plunge and immerse themselves in the sound world of Four Letter Words.
Written/reviewed by Budd Kopman at All About Jazz.
The inception of Four Letter Words as a collective, improvising trio was borne out of time spent by all three members as burgeoning artists in the vibrant Chicago jazz and improvised music scene. The weekly free improvisation workshop “Sound of the City” at Constellation was a crucial part of the meeting and eventual collaboration between Jake Wark, Matt Piet, and Bill Harris. The first performance of the trio was an unrehearsed, twenty-minute set, part of the 3-On-3 series at Constellation. The 3-On-3 series features improvising artists performing together as a unit for the first time. The success of the first performance, and the shared desire to form a working group, prompted Four Letter Words to assemble as a working collective. Initially, the aim was to create only improvised music. However, after several improvised practice sessions it became clear that compositions would aid the improvisational process. Within a few months, enough compositions penned by each member of the trio were brought to the table to allow a debut album to be recorded. Although the group had only been playing together for a few months, a collective sound had developed, and a recorded document seemed necessary to keep the compositional and improvisational process moving with forward momentum. Blow was the result of that early desire to share the collective’s process. The tracks presented on Blow are varied: some are through-composed “heads” played in time, some are improvisations over vamps, and others are the result of skeletal forms featuring distinct melodic fragments that frame the plunge into collective improvisation. All tracks are first or second takes, and therefore showcase the highly improvisatory ethic of the trio. In the end, Blow is a solid document of a group in its early stage of development.
Jake Wark - Tenor saxophone
Matt Piet - Piano
Bill Harris - Drums and percussion
All music was performed live by Four Letter Words
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Bill Harris.
Recorded in August of 2015
Designed and produced by Four Letter Words.
Special thanks to Mike Reed and Constellation, Paul and Mary Piet for the recording space, and to our friends, families, and listeners.