New Bedford native Kyle Nasser is a graduate of both Harvard and Berklee. The former gave him a grounding in economics and political philosophy, the latter a keen interest in counterpoint. The saxophonist’s debut is knotty with a contrapuntal weave of voices, bumpy mixed meters, and alternating rhythmic currents that nonetheless groove, sometimes with a rocking edge. Take “Gyorgi Goose,” in part a tribute to composer György Ligeti: A dissonant, angular start-stop theme gives way to swing grooves in the piano and tenor solos. Similarly, “Shadow Army” is introduced by tense four-to-the-bar piano chords in lockstep with a martial drum beat, then unfolds with a lyrical guitar-tenor unison theme. Guitarist Jeff Miles brings plenty of string scraping, rock riffing, and a hard-edged tone. Pianist Dov Manski, bassist Chris Van Voorst, and drummer Devin Drobka maintain the tricky rhythmic and harmonic armatures. But Nasser’s is the central voice, both in his compositions and his fluid, warm-toned tenor, especially effective in his hefty middle and lower registers.
ESSENTIAL “Shadow Army”
The Kyle Nasser Quintet plays the Beat Hotel, in Harvard Square, Cambridge, on March 25 and the Wamsutta Room in New Bedford on March 28.