Review: Syrinx Effect, “Snail Songs”

syrinx[written for Earshot Jazz]

Among the many young ensembles creating action-packed music within Seattle’s productive jazz and creative music scene, the Syrinx Effect is a standout. Playing (usually) without a rhythm section, the soprano sax-trombone duo draws propulsive energy from the air like a wind turbine. The group’s second release, out this month, channels that energy into a tuneful and confident set of composed pieces, making Snail Songs a nicely contrasting pair with last year’s gnarly and sweet, a set of unvarnished free improvisations.

In fact, the Syrinx Effect seems to be all about the nicely contrasting pairs–Kate Olson’s skybound reeds with Naomi Siegel’s gently loping trombone; the group’s double commitment to both improvised and composed music, and the two halves of their acoustic palette, which augments the two’s live playing with samples and looped duplicates of themselves. In the new recording, all of these pairings make for a fluid dance, in which sax and trombone slither in and out of the musical foreground, set against an electronic continuo of echoes and loops. (The effect is often as if Pauline Oliveros had been the third member of Jimmy Giuffre’s late 50’s trio with Bob Brookmeyer.)

Moods on Snail Songs range from bouncy to becalmed, and generally more sweet than gnarly. Olson’s lovely “Respired by” has Siegel stretching out in a breathy, bluesy solo, then slowly building up a buzzing, didgeridoo-like drone, before both players come together for the tune’s main theme. In Siegel’s graceful closer “Lonesome and the Moonbuggy,” a gently swinging duet gradually dissolves into a sundrenched pool of prismatic harmonies.

Both Siegel and Olson are members of several other ticketworthy performing groups (including Wayne Horvitz’s Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble), so there is no shortage of opportunities to catch performances of these rising lights of the Seattle jazz scene. But a Syrinx Effect gig is worth seeking out on its own–not to mention Snail Songs.