Colin Hinton / Cat Toren / Yuma Uesaka

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Ocelot Review

by Matt Collar

The eponymous 2021 debut album from the Brooklyn jazz collective Ocelot features the trio's artful and darkly cinematic improvisational sound. Making up Ocelot are pianist Cat Toren, saxophonist/clarinetist Yuma Uesaka, and drummer/percussionist Colin Hinton. Together, they play a blend of avant-garde jazz and modern classical that balances soft melodies with arresting moments of hypnotic dissonance. The Canadian-born Toren, who won a Juno Award for her work with the quintet Pugs and Crows in 2012, has built a reputation for playing spiritual jazz influenced by '60s icons like John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, as on her superb 2020 album Scintillating Beauty. While she touches upon that style here, working with Uesaka and Hinton she takes that sound further, pushing her warm, meditative style in an edgy, atonal direction akin to free-leaning players like Cecil Taylor and Myra Melford. The opening "Daimon II" is a dusky piece built around Toren and Uesaka's spare arpeggios. It's an eerie track, evoking images of empty rooms full of shadows and memories. Equally haunting is "Contemptuality," a ballad that sounds like broken glass falling in slow motion. The trio conjure visual sounds throughout the album, as on "Anemone," where Uesaka's sax is a breathy moan under the far-off rumble of Hinton's drums and Toren's moon-bright piano chords. Similarly, on the Philip Glass-esque "Post," they play an urgent, repeated two-note phrase like an anxious dinner bell that ends abruptly with long drawn-out notes. The album builds dramatically to "Crocus," a languorous ballad that lulls you along before exploding with a raging saxophone solo that dissipates into empty paint can drums and a low piano murmur. Ocelot have crafted an engaging debut full of impressionist sound paintings that draw you into their textural spell.

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