Within the million or so genres that exist, there are a special few that are beyond my understanding. Purely refined, versatile and mathematically precise, jazz is one of them. Quinn Sternberg is not your ordinary jazz musician, he’s been on his own odd time roll since 2016. After his release Weird World, he has explored the extents of his creative boundaries passionately. 6 years later, this is his latest album, Cicada Songs.
The twisted tempos of jazz
The opening track is June, something that is a soft cruise down this road of jazz Quinn so easily navigates. The album having sharp turns to straight drives, there was a desire to know what this album transpired from. “I think the overall sound of this record is based on a combination of bands that I was really interested in at the time, but each individual song has its own narrative that I tried to funnel those sounds into.” , Quinn says. It is clear from the sound in June and the immediate shift of tone, tempo, rhythm and heart in the title track that he is purely out to enjoy himself.
“Ron Miles, Marquis Hill, and Kurt Rosenwinkel were definitely high on my listening list, and I wanted to combine what I was hearing in their music with my own aesthetics to animate the 8 different scenes.” says Quinn, about his thematic travel. Using this dramatic effect of splitting the tone and sounds, each track can extract the characteristic of these artists Quinn admires, with his signature delivery. The funky core of Cicada Songs is a massive juxtaposition from June or the cinematic flow of Remember the Birds.
A new approach and style
Quinn says “A lot of the diversity in soundscapes on this album comes from the instrumentation. This was the first album I’ve done with both a guitarist and a keyboardist and the first one where I’ve played both electric and acoustic bass.” This is heard in the tonal shift between the tracks, where each controls the motor movement of the song itself. Take the relaxed flow of Porch Cat for example, it has notational character very different of that to the complex clockwork of What A Day.
“Being able to switch between the two basses and various combinations of guitar, Rhodes, and piano gave us a lot of different textures to work with. It also helps to have a super creative and versatile drummer like Peter Varnado to give the songs a unique contour.” It has vastly amplified the tempo that is mirrored and replicated on all the instruments, a jam harnessing cosmic energy.
Weird World is now miles away from Quinn’s current sound and mind. “I think as an instrumentalist and as a writer I’m more inclined to use the bass as a compositional tool than to try to do “cool things” on the bass. The first couple albums have a bunch of bass solos because I thought that was a necessary thing, but this time around I just wanted to play bass lines that supported the music. I’m trying to play solid parts now even in improvised contexts where the part can change rapidly.” The approach and process have changed massively, which is where we see the maturity in sound from Quinn Sternberg.
On composing and working
When asked about the most complex song on the album that would have felt easy, Quinn said Remember the Birds. “Sometimes as a composer I spend so much time writing a piece and gaining an intimate understanding of it that by the time I bring it to the band I’ve forgotten that the rhythms and chords I wrote are super weird. This was a tune that I wasn’t really worried about initially, but it’s proved to be quite challenging to play live.” I would suppose that would be the case for all of jazz, but hearing this track reminds you how masterful the genre is to understand and appreciate.
Sinusoidal also asked what other plans Quinn Sternberg has with regards to collaborations and parallel projects. “I have a handful of projects that I’ve worked on recently as a sideman that I’m excited to see come to fruition. A couple of rock groups I play in, Mighty Brother and Ari Carter Trio, recorded albums the same month as the cicada session that will both be out before too long.”
“On the BAM/Jazz side of things I recorded a couple albums with the Doug Stone/Marcelo Pinto Quartet and Kirk Duplantis that I’m stoked for. There are a ton of amazing players that I’d love to collab with, but I’ll be thrilled if I can keep working with the guys I’m currently playing with.“
So many genres, one man for them all. Decide for yourself, the brilliance of Quinn is on full display here: