When news reach our ears that a new EP from a rising composer will come out, we cannot help but feel excited by it. This Life is the EP from composer Jenny Hallahan. While she has played in the Irish jazz scene for around ten years, it marks Hallahan’s debut as a composer of pieces for a quartet of piano, baritone saxophone, bass, synths and drums. It is an exciting and envigorating proposal that offers a sense of wonder to anyone who hears it.
This Life is inspired by jazz figures such as Avishai Cohen, Alpha Mist and Pino Palladino and “Life itself”, in Hallahan’s own words. Its inspiration came after the composer took a sabattical to Bali for three months with her partner in 2019. The ideas for the EP were finally put together during the 2020 lockdown when Hallahan was awarded funding from the Arts Council of Ireland and she assembled her quartet. Recording was made remotely by Scott Halliday, while Stephen Ceresia of Stonyfield Mastering was in charge of mastering in Austin Texas. Hallahan’s quartet consists of herself in bass, Owen O’Neill in the baritone sax, Luke Dunford in piano, and Dylan Lynch on drums.
Each of the pieces in This Life has a complex arrangement that allows each of the instruments complement and play around the ideas presented by one another. For example, in the first piece that carries the same title as the EP, “This Life“, the drums and piano establish a beat and chord progression over the first bars of the track, from which the bass and the sax construct variations. These variations transform the track into something completly different from when it started. The piano solo highlights the capabilities of the instrument to its full potential. When we return to the same theme as the start of the track in the last bars, we recognize it as something familiar. Yet, it presents itself as more powerful from what it was before: we feel as if something has transformed.
“Breathe” starts in a calm manner, with just the piano and the bass for a few bars. They play together complex chords that establish the harmonic base of the track. Soon, they are joined by the sax, which gives little clues of the melodic turnarounds that the that will happen in the future. The beat picks up while respecting the same mood as before when the drums join. The melodic and harmonic ideas build upon one another until they reach the spotlight moment of the track: the sax solo that carries us deeper and deeper into a dream as it progresses…
The third track of the EP “Without Time” lays its foundations on its rhythmic complexity and the relationship between the sax, the bass and the piano, which serves as a tool which Hallahan uses to explore and propose very interesting ideas that develop in imaginative ways. They respond to each other, complete each other’s phrases, reinforce the harmonic questions that another one asks. As if we were hearing friends or lovers talking to each other. The emotional climax of the track is reached when the three of them play in unisone while the drums carry the beat.
“A Wise Man Once Said” plays once again with the idea of the realtionship between instruments. While at first predominantly a piano and bass focused, the saxophone interjects over the piano phrases in unisone to reinforce the melodic developments of the piece. The drums also have their time to shine by their complex beat and their solo in the middle of the piece. They take the full spotlight during their duet with the piano, in which the piano repeats minimalistic phrases while the drums play difficult rhythms. The last part of the piece is an imporvisation by the piano, followed by a magnificent tutti as all the instruments play in unisone during the last bars of the piece.
“Swerve” is the closing track of the album. It starts with a blues-like chord progression by the piano. This time bass is in charge of the somwhat-sorrowful melody. This melody serves as a chorus/bridge that joins the various parts of the piece, such as the exclamations made by saxophone and the piano and their respective solos and duets. The last moments of the piece is a mystic voyage troughout a life itself, as we need a few moments to return to reality, to this life.
This Life is an exploration of jazz and life itself. Jenny Hallahan proposes strong ideas and explores them throughout. With harmonic and rhythmic complexity and instrument interactions that resemble those of human relationships This Life is a very strong debut for the Irish composer that is sure to be enjoyed by jazz enthusiasts and the general public alike.
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