Album Review of
The Elements

Written by Joe Ross
June 13, 2021 - 12:50am EDT
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Madre Vaca (which means “Mother Cow”) is the quartet of Benjamin Shorstein (drums), Jarrett Carter (guitar), Thomas Milovac (bass) and Jonah Pierre (piano). The group uses standard jazz instruments in their exploration of new narrative forms in their textured sound pieces. In 2018 the group released Nexus, and in 2019 came Nero. Their 2020 project Winterreise recast Franz Schubert’s song cycle as modern jazz performed by a dynamic, creative octet. Their fourth album, The Elements gives us a unique approach to melody, harmony and rhythm to depict the world’s four elements --Fire, Water, Earth, Wind. Each musician composed one extended piece to contribute to the jazz symphony. Each movement is filled with its own unique colorings, character, and subtle surprises emphasizing solos and collective improvisation.

To show both the good and bad of “Fire,” Shorstein’s 15-minute opener takes spark, flares up, and ultimately builds to an incendiary, explosive conclusion. The aesthetic for Carter’s “Water” follows a progression from peaceful lake to rain storm, and surging river to waterfall. Bassist Milovac presents “Earth” as large and immovable like a mountain but also with rhythmic tremors that sound and resound. It seems to be a call to open one’s mind to the imperfections and paradoxical nature of our world. It also endeavors to make harmony from disharmony. In the concluding movement, pianist Pierre’s “Wind” combines beauty with virtue, cleanses, illuminates, and allows us to awaken with optimism.          

The Elements is a Madre Vaca group-process visionary work. The collaborative effort succeeds because four competent musicians, passionate about what they do, created a type of spiritual fusion from the chemistry of nature.   (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)