The New Fuse Box – The Wakem/Nielson Project (LGW/Rhythmethod) CD Review

This third album by Auckland-based jazz group The New Fuse Box is a quiet gem. It’s easy to fling this more introspective jazz into category like ‘easy listening’ or ‘TV theme music’, when in fact, the more deeply you listen to it, the more you hear, and the more intricate you realise it is.
Primarily acoustic, The Wakem/Nielson Project is a generous, 15-song album of pianist Lindsay Wakem’s gorgeous compositions, on which saxophonist Chris Nielson gets the lion’s share of instrumental action.
If I have a problem with the disc, it’s my aversion to a saxophones, or rather, to a particular sound saxophonists make, and it’s the sax that carries leads most of these tracks. [I need to point out that it’s my problem, not theirs, and you, the listener, may enjoy the very tonalities that grate on my ears.]
It’s not called The Wakem/Nielson Project for nothing: although Wakem wrote the tunes, Nielson played the aforementioned sax parts, as well as handling other horn duties, drum programming on one track, and he produced, mixed and mastered the whole shebang. Speaking of mixing, I couldn’t help noticing that throughout, the piano sounds like it’s coming from across the room, while the sax is blowing right into the microphone, making for a slight imbalance. I wanted to hear the piano more loudly, with more detail.
The album survives this minor instrumental imbalance, however. These are sophisticated compositions with improvised elements, rather than the free-for-all some associate with jazz. They’re tightly structured, sensitively arranged, carefully sculptured over their five-to-seven minute evolutions, and have a dignified poise that one hears too rarely in jazz of any denomination.
There’s no attempt to incorporate dance music, hip-hop, electronics or guest vocalists, and for that I am grateful. Instead, after the sixth song, the playful Latin-tinged ‘Bossa Tossa’, the album winds down a few gears as it progresses to an almost ECM-label jazz-orchestral finale, and a sense of sublime stillness. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3 stars
Music = 4 stars

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