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Fantastic Merlins


Listening to the Fantastic Merlins is like walking down an alley in a film noir: shadowy characters, ambiguous motives, and cliffhanger moments abound. Both dissonant and resonant, the Fantastic Merlins effortlessly weave together the dark and the light, the dangerous and innocent.

Without any predetermined rules for the unexpected instrumentation of saxophone, cello, bass, and drums, the Fantastic Merlins’ cinematic sound coalesces organically. The result is an exquisite tension between jazz and chamber music, surprising listeners as often as it soothes.

The Fantastic Merlins’ balance between highly orchestrated passages and improvisational flights of fancy creates a constant process of discovery. It keeps the Fantastic Merlins’ sound fresh — delighting both listeners and band members themselves. This process produces momentary mysteries, too: discerning the difference between dramatically different instruments can be nearly impossible.

The Fantastic Merlins’ most recent album, Look Around, creates a swirling tension just underneath the surface, which keeps listeners under its spell from beginning to end. But even when the music is languid or brooding, rich textures and subtle tonal shifts lead to a kind of playfulness that eases the tension at all the right moments.

Moody and gorgeous, the Fantastic Merlins’ Look Around is an album-length siren song: It was chosen as a semi-finalist for the 2007 Grammys in the Best Jazz Instrumental category. And it keeps calling to listeners, echoing behind them, down that alley.

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