Chamber jazz is an intriguing subgenre; programmatic chamber jazz even more so. Halifax-based quartet New Hermitage weaves gently undulating textures out of a unique instrumentation consisting of woodwinds (Andrew MacKelvie), harp (Ellen Gibling), guitar (Ross Burns), and cello (India Gailey). Not exactly your standard jazz combo, and the music is similarly sui generis, positioned between the spontaneity of jazz and the quiet patience of ambient music.
On Obey Convention XI, recorded live at the Halifax festival of that name, the group takes inspiration from an imagined post-apocalyptic community that fuses advanced technology with ancient wisdom, imagining a soundtrack for survival. The single track, a twenty-minute suite, opens with lovely ascending swells from the harp and cello, which are soon joined by In a Silent Way-esque sighs from MacKelvie’s saxophone. Long tones from the cello anchor an extended atmospheric section of plinks and plonks from all assembled. Things pick up again about halfway through, when the interplay of jazz and ambient idioms has the music wandering between pensive and more nervous moods. The album ends on a note of cautious optimism and loose unity.
The ethos here is one of patient and attentive collaboration, while adhering to a definite emotional range. At times it is nearly impossible to tell what instrument is playing what, so precise is the synergy. There are no solos as such, no dramatic individual gestures, no group crescendos, just gentle textural development ebbing and flowing between moods while remaining essentially contemplative and responsive to the emerging organic structure. A soundtrack for survival, indeed.