|Review courtesy of All About Jazz:
The music we call jazz—a broad and ill-defined category—embraces a wide array of sounds. Under the jazz umbrella you find bebop to electronica, ambient to power trio, turntablism to tablas, ferocious saxophones to Balkan folk music. That's a big part of the music's appeal. The art form is not static; it evolves and incorporates everything it hears, and it moves in a million different directions.
Lingua Franca, by saxophonist Peter Epstein, guitarist Brad Shepik, and percussionist Matt Kilmer, is an excellent example of the incorporation of exotic styles. The odd configuration—reed, guitar, drums—in and of itself makes for an unusual sound, and the three musicians bring in a bunch of world music influences, creating a sort of folk song underpinning to reggae (”Sunrise”), blues (”Miro”), and Celtic (”Emerald”), along with an unidentifiable amalgam of Eastern and Eastern European modes.
The disc opens with “Two Door,” which has a lively high-octane feeling, with Matt Kilmer using a kanjira (a small Indian folk drum) behind an insistent cruise control momentum of alternating guitar/sax solos. “Miro” brings in a bluesy tint, Shepik exotically soulful; Kilmer wields a frame drum with a brush in one hand, adding an odd yet intriguing bump and shuffle backdrop.
Percussion seems the area of music-making most wide open to creativity, and Matt Kilmer's makes fascinating contributions throughout the set on a variety of frame drums: djembe, ocean drum, kanjira. On “Emerald,” one large frame drum with a deep, hollow resonance elevates the song's Celtic mysticism, while the percussionist's hadgini, a type of Udu drum, adds a succinct yet subtle punctuation behind the amorphous, drifting melody on “Improvisation I.”
Recorded mostly live with no overdubs, Lingua Franca has a very organic, spontaneous feeling, sometimes lively, sometimes meditative, always entrancing. One of the most interesting discs of the year.