When considering titles for his debut album, Light Shines In, on Fresh Sound New Talent Records, tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Adam Schneit was reminded of the chorus from his favorite Leonard Cohen song, “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
“That line resonates with me so strongly,” says Schneit. “It took me a long time to finally record this music. I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist, or at least preoccupied with having things just right before I charge forward. And yet I’m most inspired by music and art that’s flawed and raw, that’s immediate and visceral rather than polished and pristine.” Light Shines In, an assured introduction to a musician with a unique instrumental and compositional voice, is also a reflection of the joy that comes with risking imperfection to arrive at something vulnerable and honest. It is this guiding impetus that seamlessly unifies a program of affecting rock melodies, bracing free play, off-kilter vamps, and ethereal ballads.
Born in Portland, Maine, Schneit completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard University before deciding to pursue music professionally and getting his Masters degree at the New England Conservatory of Music. While at NEC, he sought out teachers with strong, personal aesthetic visions, such as Steve Lacy, George Garzone, Bob Brookmeyer, and Joe Morris. After moving to New York in 2005, he became active in the freelance jazz and singer/songwriter scene, but was initially most interested in developing long-term group projects. He co-led and wrote much of the music for the band Old Time Musketry which, over the course of two critically-acclaimed albums and seven years of performances, put forth its own unclassifiable blend of Americana, folk, jazz, rock, and free improvisation.
When Old Time Musketry came to an end and presenting his music as a leader became more of a priority, Schneit already had musicians in mind. Kenny Wollesen, long-time drummer in Bill Frisell’s various groups (as well as John Zorn’s and countless jazz and rock settings), is master of a grounded, elastic beat. “There is so much space in Kenny’s playing,” says Schneit. “Whether he’s playing a backbeat or free, there is so much intensity but it still feels so open and supportive.” Eivind Opsvik (Tony Malaby, Dave Binney), whose long-standing relationship with Wollesen is documented on his four “Overseas” albums, is a bassist with a thick, resonant tone. He’s equally adept at anchoring the beat as at responding to and inciting the soloist with spontaneous counterpoint. Guitarist Sean Moran (The Four Bags) steers clear of much of the conventional jazz language often employed on his instrument, favoring singing melodies and rock-like textures.
The band’s sensitivity speaks to a rapport stretching back several years: Opsvik and Moran have been regular members since 2009 and 2011, respectively, and Wollesen was enlisted in 2014, soon after Schneit started playing in the drummer’s anarchic marching band, the Himalayas. Each player has an unmistakable sound but also huge ears, and the quality of listening and support is evident throughout the album.
The music on Light Shines In reflects Schneit’s deep love for melody in all its manifestations, ranging from pared-down rock tunes to denser “free” excursions. “I’m inspired by musicians like Keith Jarrett, Neil Young, Bill Frisell, and Ornette Coleman, where things can get loud or soft, chaotic or rhapsodic, and at the core there’s always melody. By which I mean something vocal and human, a real sense of song.” The selections on the album all develop out of this foundation of song. “A Clearer View” is a Neil Young-inspired folk-rocker, starting relaxed and down-home but building in intensity over the course of nine minutes. “Different Times” spins from its oddly-resolving changes into thorny free improvisation and back again. “Old Time Musketry” features a winding, joyful, somewhat gospel-like tune over rapidly-shifting chords. The sole clarinet track, “Hope for Something More”, is a brooding rock-ballad with a mantra-like melody. “Light Shines In”, a solemn but brightening rubato meditation, is followed by the raucous, angular madness of “My Secret Hobby.” Closing out the album is “Song for Silence”, a fragile, yearning melody with a darkly insistent hook. ~Stephen Buono Publicity