Lathyrus - "On the Brink of Light" album review

 Lathyrus - On the Brink of Light

On the Brink of Light pleasantly surprised me with an exquisite aesthetic: an intricate and perfect combination of jazz, new age, contemporary classical, and traditional folk music.

On the Brink of Light (Uz gaismas sliekšņa) is the first album released by the new music jazz quartet Lathyrus. Consisting of composer/vocalist Monta Tupčijenko, cellist Conrad Noll, trumpeter Ruven Weithöner, and pianist Max Brackmann, Lathyrus beautifully straddles the line between traditional jazz aesthetics and contemporary-sounding folk music. All four musicians are accomplished in both classical and jazz musical backgrounds, enabling the intricate compositional voice of Tupčijenko to create a new, atmospheric sound-world, surprising for such a sparse quartet of instruments. Released early October by TonkunstManufaktur, On the Brink of Light is an amazing example of what chamber jazz music can sound like in the twenty-first century. 

Opening with a glistening shimmer, the first track from On the Brink of Light, "Sunrise", sets the mood for the remainder of the album. Recordings of bird calls fade in, soon accompanied by cello sul ponticello tremolos and altissimo piano lines. Lathyrus has the beautiful ability to create a sensible and engaging musical backdrop, allowing Tupčijenko's wordless vocals and Weithöner's melancholic flugelhorn solos to magically float over the listener. 

Despite the unconventional grouping of the quartet, never was I left feeling awkward or wanting more. Lathyrus achieved this by pushing the boundaries of contemporary jazz, while still keeping enough traditional elements to feel comfortable. The cellist, Conrad Noll, is one of the best examples. Noll is the type of cellist required for any contemporary jazz ensemble, seamlessly able to transition between lush, romantic improvised solos, background comping with extended techniques, and emulating standard basslines. His musical versatility constantly shines through every track on the album. "Sunlight" begins with a pizzicato cello and piano duet, and at first listen Noll's sound grooves just as well as a double bass, an incredibly difficult feat for any cellist. One of the most interesting tracks, "No Words", is comprised mostly of extended techniques, an homage to Lathyrus' confidence in contemporary classical music. Noll surprises us with improvised sounds reminiscent of a Penderecki score, but coming out of only a single instrument. It enables Weithöner's trumpet melodies to be simultaneously distant and moving.

Major credit needs to be given to vocalist Monta Tupčijenko, who is also the composer and lyricist for a majority of the album. Tupčijenko mixes gorgeous vocalizing with English and Latvian lyrics throughout On the Brink of Light. The Latvian lyrics (see original and translation here) help create a sense of traditional folk music, which Tupčijenko evokes in her expanding, diatonic melodies spread between all of the quartet. Her diction and text setting is very classically-inspired for a jazz album. The words always fit perfectly into the music and can be easily understood by the listener.

The album closes with a lovely "Sunset", creating a subconscious programmatic element. The track is shorter than most on the album, prominently features Weithöner's flugelhorn solo, and fades out into the sound of bird calls, thus bringing a full circle to the concept album. Overall, On the Brink of Light pleasantly surprised me with an exquisite aesthetic: an intricate and perfect combination of jazz, new age, contemporary classical, and traditional folk music.

Be sure to like and follow us, and comment your own thoughts!

© 2021 Brutal New Music Reviews
originally written and published 18 Dec. 2021

please send any and all questions/comments/complaints/suggestions to:


Popular posts from this blog

Hugi Guðmundsson - "Windbells" album review

Annika Socolofsky - "I Tell You Me" album review

Karl Jenkins - "One World"