Geneva, Switzerland-based modern jazz quartet P R O T O T Y P E (hereon, Prototype) say the band’s freshly released, self-titled debut is an EP. However, it just takes one listen through of the five tracks that make up this record and calling it an EP might seem almost like doing the record and the band a disservice.
P R O T O T Y P E is:
Ravi Ramsahye (Guitar)
Theo Hanser (Tenor Saxophone)
Benoit Gautier (Upright Bass)
Nathan Triquet (Drums)*
*Nathan is the current drummer; the player recorded on the EP is Richard Cossettini
A relatively new group that came together over the course of 2020, Prototype presents itself with the instrumental foundation of a classic jazz quartet. What gives this four piece its modern edge though, are its adventurous inclinations with regard to tonality and compositional form. While Theo Hanser’s tenor saxophone parts often take an understandable lead position with melody, and Richard Cossettini’s drums often propel the band forward with rhythmic patterns and dynamic pulses, the music on Prototype leaps from these places of functional familiarity toward many more musical frontiers of less conventional and expected direction. Three of the five tracks on the EP – “Last Breath,” “Tropotype,” and “Moon Glint” – clock in at over seven minutes and “Last Breath,” the opening track, makes an even longer musical statement of more than 10 minutes. Track lengths such as these might lead one to presume there’s a heavy dose of improvisation and-or freeform arrangement built into these longer pieces. Instead, Prototype meets this presumption with performative precision and decisive sonic concepts, wasting no time in doing so.
“Last Breath” begins with a subtle set of plucked notes by Ravi Ramsahye, which go from cautious to cosmic with the flick of an effect switch. Distortion, delay, reverb, and a warbling effect resulting from the alteration of delay length as each note tone is being fed back, teases an almost hallucinogenic state – gradually lowering the listener into the mildly disorienting world of the 10 minute long track. From the musical fluidity of this opener, Prototype brings things far more into focus with “Tropotype,” (composed by Theo Hanser) as Hanser’s saxophone starts things off with a crisp solo that runs in a fast-paced 5/4. The motif itself is short and melodically simple, even providing moments of rest between phrases but, the steady inclusion of pattering cymbal and clean and glittery rhythm chords from the guitar eventually help to contextualize the track’s rhythmic boldness and provide just the sonic contrast to really increase how much one feels the impact of the odd time signature. Instrumental parts and their interlaced harmonies are more defined here and it’s a little easier to follow along with the melodic leaders throughout, especially with the piece ebbing and flowing between its initial 5/4, to a much more tangible 4/4, and even slower tempo takes of 5/4.
The EP’s third track, “Prelude to Drift” is the perfect midpoint piece, as it’s brief 1:19 run time, calming melody, and consistent waltzing 3/4 rhythm through and through serve up just the mental breather needed before the back half of the recording. What’s noteworthy to remember about this pseudo-interlude is that three is a factor of nine, which is the meter count – specifically 9/4 – that immediately follows in the EP’s lead single, “Drift.” That said, the “two drift tracks” aren’t explicitly connected by rhythm. If anything, the relation seems like more an easter egg for those who might hear the latter track’s very complex rhythm and upon a second listen, perhaps find some amusement in the subtle numeric connection – almost like something of a hint of what’s to come. “Drift” itself is a masterfully complex piece of music. The drums and saxophone dance around one another with a rhythmic relationship that seem destined for chaotic friction, due to the two parts’ main points of sonic focus – the note changes in the sax and the downbeat on the snare – never quite aligning. It’s only at about 1:35, with dramatic hits upon the ride cymbal at the basic downbeat and the guitar taking over the main motif, that the song seems to stabilize to a familiar meter – but only for a few bars. It’s a stellar choice for a single and keeps the listener on their toes without ever letting the music go completely off the rails into compositionally nebulous territory.
This decision is a smart one, as the closing track, “Moon Glint,” bookends Prototype with its final lengthy piece and a partial return to free and fluid melodic writing heard in the beginning and a consecutive dose of disorientation might have made the end of the record harder to finish. Still, the band exercises some restraint with regard to maintaining musical form. The amount of reverb remains moderate rather than tumbling into trippy space. The rhythm holds steady throughout, as does the time signature. The only aspect that really floats along without many boundaries – either melodically or dynamically speaking – is Hanser’s saxophone. It steers the musical trajectory of “Moon Glint,” soaring above gentle snare brushstrokes; delicate, cyclical notes by the guitar; and soothing, rounded plucks by Benoit Gautier’s upright bass. This contrast between Hanser and the rest of Prototype allow for the piece to move along with a sense of musical clarity, while maintaining a feeling of open wandering befitting of a space driven theme. Additionally, there’s just enough direction and clarity that for such a long finishing track, “Moon Glint” neither lets itself be forgotten in the background, nor does it demand all of one’s attention for its full run time. Ironically, it’s this piece that carries itself with much more of a “drift” feel and it does so with just the right balance to keep the listener engaged but never losing its atmospheric personality.
Much like the unpredictability of outer space, Prototype’s self-titled EP provides a little bit of everything – some semblance of expected characteristics, some unforeseen surprises that require detailed analysis, and some simply pleasant sensory experiences that require nothing but a relaxed imagination and an open sense of wonder to enjoy.
Editor’s note: A previous version of the this review credited Nathan Triquet as the drummer on the EP. Nathan joined the band after recording was completed. The drummer heard on the recording is Richard Cossettini.