San Francisco-based jazz trumpeter/composer Erik Jekabson reaches new heights on his superb 2012 album, Anti-Mass, a collection of tunes he wrote specifically for his String-tet, a small chamber jazz ensemble featuring his own trumpet plus tenor sax, violin, viola, bass, and percussion. Inspired by Jekabson's visits to San Francisco's DeYoung Museum, the thoughtful, layered tracks on Anti-Mass are meant to reflect Jekabson's love for art and architecture -- an admittedly high-concept aspiration. But while the nature of a string-based ensemble naturally encourages a ruminative, classically oriented sound, Anti-Mass is at its core a jazz album. Jekabson, who earned his graduate degree in classical composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has an ear for both bluesy, syncopated jazz and cinematic, impressionistic sounds. In that sense, the tracks on Anti-Mass, while holding together well as a unified body of work, also showcase Jekabson's appreciation for a broad variety of compositional styles. To these ends, the expansive "Silence" and the equally languid "A New Beginning" bring to mind the exactness of Philip Glass, while more rollicking compositions such as "Strontium" and "Park Stroll" mix the sweeping Americana of Aaron Copeland with the urbane, large-ensemble works of Duke Ellington. While nothing on Anti-Mass would register as particularly avant-garde, a few songs -- including the lengthy blues-inflected title track, which moves from a muscular, brooding initial statement to a more fractured midsection, ending in a gospel-infused New Orleans jam -- showcase the ensemble's knack for complex, extended group interplay. Much like a smaller version of the Gil Evans Orchestra with Miles Davis, Jekabson seamlessly interweaves his string arrangements with the rhythm section to create a kind of harmonic bed over which he and saxophonist Dayna Stephens can lay down their precise improvisational lines. The results blur the lines between jazz and classical in the most pleasing way, turning fans of either into fans of both.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar