Monday, November 6, 2023

Marbin: “Russian Dolls & Ten Years In The Sun” (2020) CD Review

Marbin is a jazz rock band based in Chicago, currently made up of Danny Markovitch on saxophone, Dani Rabin on guitar, Everette Benton Jr. on drums, and Jon Nadel on bass. In 2020, when the pandemic shut things down and concerts were canceled, two Marbin albums were released digitally, and then a two-disc physical release containing both was issued. Titled Russian Dolls & Ten Years In The Sun, this two-disc set offers something different from earlier releases of the band. Russian Dolls focuses on the work of Danny Markovitch, while Ten Years In The Sun is a set of solo guitar pieces by Dani Rabin.

Disc One: Russian Dolls

The first disc focuses on material composed by saxophone player Danny Markovitch, and features Dani Rabin on guitar and Antonio Sanchez on drums. It opens with “When There Becomes Here,” and I fall in love with the music immediately.  It is music that transports us from our normal reality, having a strong European flavor and a timeless vibe. It features some gorgeous playing, particularly the work on saxophone. This track makes me want to go on a trip with my girlfriend, for us to immerse ourselves in some other place, and forget whatever holds us here. It’s followed by “Yellow Roman Candles,” which adds a funky element to the festivities. It is like a dance in which the past and present join hands and find their steps matching. There is a great joy to the playing that lifts us a few inches off that dance floor, the saxophone driving us upward and forward.

“The Great Rosegray” gathers us in somewhat gently, pushing away the troubles as it does so at the beginning. And then after a brief breath, a pause during which we are unsure if the track will explode into a frenzy dance, it takes us in a more romantic direction. A dance, yes, but one in which memories help guide our bodies. And not just our memories, but that greater collective memory that we can all tap into in certain magic moments, when we can see eternity in the eyes of our partners, and everything becomes the present, the only moment that matters. This track features some fantastic work on saxophone, and is one of my personal favorites. Things get more playful with “Years That Ask Questions.” I particularly enjoy the drums. I also love the character of this song, the way it moves. I wasn’t sure what to expect with that track title. After all, years have been asking some serious questions of late. But here the mood is decidedly lighter. Just listen to that sax fly.

A bluesy romantic mood is established quickly at the beginning of “Ships At A Distance.” This track has a late-night vibe, and the night in question is during a vacation, where you and your love are the only ones on the floor, and the band keeps playing just for you. And time doesn’t matter. Listening to this song, you can feel that person’s hair on your cheek, her face against your shoulder. Nothing can harm you, the music and the night work to protect you. I love that guitar work. This track is another favorite of mine. And then we get the answers with “Years That Answer,” though perhaps not to those specific questions asked before. This is a mellower number than “Years That Ask Questions,” which I suppose makes sense, for when we have the answers, our confidence relaxes us. There is something soothing in the attitude and tone here. That is not to say this piece is devoid of energy, for that is certainly not the case. The saxophone expresses a great freedom at moments. The first disc concludes with “Things Of Dry Hours,” another dance. Searching your partner’s eyes for some key that will open her completely, but not wanting to get there too quickly, enjoying those moments when you circle each other, when everything is possible. Nothing yet is counted out, nothing yet is eliminated. Is anything sexier? This is a beautiful piece.

Disc 2: Ten Years In The Sun

Interestingly, the music on the second disc came from the discovery of an old notebook during the pandemic, just as the music on the first disc did. Different notebook, different composer. The music on this disc was written and performed by guitarist Dani Rabin. The disc opens with a beautiful piece titled “For Soraya,” delivered with love and warmth. This is also music that is able to transport us. Let it take you where it will. Wherever you end up will be better than where you started, for music like this helps better prepare us for facing the world. That is followed by “Daffodil Machete,” a slower, more contemplative number that carries us gently up and over hills. There is something almost methodical about the movement at times. “Ten Years In The Sun,” the album’s title track, also finds us in a contemplative mood, a solitary state, gazing out at nature, at the day, which offers rest.

“Shadow Waltz” seems to look back at a dance, perhaps from a perspective of many years later, until the music returns that youth, that vigor to us. Because of course music can do that, if only briefly. Then there is a bit of blues in “Down And Out In Barcelona,” fitting with its title. This track has a lonesome vibe, even as we sense beauty and movement around us. There is a more cheerful aspect to “Sandbox World,” with even some magical elements, coming from a time when we weren’t old enough to yet completely disbelieve. The worlds we created were real. And now for a short time we can inhabit those worlds again. The guitar work provides the key. That’s followed by “Strong Thing.” It perhaps begins in a more somber arena, but the light soon comes in, and things are not as dour as one might have first believed.

“Mom’s Song” is gentle, beautiful, loving piece, one that can help you through a troubled time. Close your eyes and let the music soothe you. It absorbs your sadness and lets it become something beautiful, something promising, and perhaps we can all learn how to do that. That’s followed by “Polish Winter,” a track that commands our attention right from the start with some strong and impressive guitar work. And once it has us, it takes us into a place of melancholy, of ache, but of beauty. Then “November Guest” introduces us to a somber character in a long dark coat he’s had for ages. There is a weariness to the movement, as age has him slowing. And then surprisingly there is a lightness to his step at times, as if time doesn’t quite have a total grasp on him, at least not yet. That’s followed by “Mei” a slow dance, a sense of perseverance while moving through the world and through time.

The mood turns somewhat lighter with “The Dark Green Hill,” a pretty piece that seems to have a light that both guides and protects at it shines upon us, even if we don’t fully acknowledge it. Life stands still for us, so that we can appreciate the moment. And then the moment is gone. That’s followed by “A Six Word Story,” and indeed this track does feel like it tells us a story, one that begins in a contemplative place and speaks of a brief time or incident from the past. The second disc concludes appropriately with a piece titled “The Last Thing,” feeling like the end of a day, putting the household to bed and letting the shadows shape one’s thoughts. And memory comes alive, somehow promising another day as eyes close and hopes become dreams.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. When There Becomes Here
  2. Yellow Roman Candles
  3. The Great Rosegray
  4. Years That Ask Questions
  5. Ships At A Distance
  6. Years That Answer
  7. Things Of Dry Hours

Disc 2

  1. For Soraya
  2. Daffodil Machete
  3. Ten Years In The Sun
  4. Shadow Waltz
  5. Down And Out In Barcelona
  6. Sandbox World
  7. Strong Thing
  8. Mom’s Song
  9. Polish Winter
  10. November Guest
  11. Mei
  12. The Dark Green Hill
  13. A Six Word Story
  14. The Last Thing

Russian Dolls & Ten Years In The Sun was released in 2020.

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