January 27, 2023  /  News

Longtime friends and frequent live collaborators, Nathan Hanson and Chris Bates, connect for a duo recording; Weights and Measures.

The new release showcases the musical empathy and deep listening that the duo are known for.

Weights and Measures is the new duo album from Nathan Hanson and Chris Bates. Saxophonist Nathan Hanson, and bassist Chris Bates recorded this set of spontaneous compositions on March 29th, 2021 at Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill in St. Paul, MN. Hanson invited Bates to collaborate as a duo in response to the Covid 19 restrictions that were affecting so many in the early days of the vaccine. This freely improvised set ranges from raging energy to subtle sweetness all while highlighting the musical and emotional connections between these two longtime friends.

Saxophonist Nathan Hanson (Fake Accent, Fantastic Merlins) makes music that invites listeners to stand outside themselves and the flow of time. He has toured extensively throughout the US and France. New York City Jazz Record says his improvisations are “lithe and soaring, engaging in judicious honk ‘n’ splatter.” Bassist Chris Bates (Atlantis Quartet, Red Planet, Zacc Harris Group) brings a deep tone and a composer’s sensibility to any musical situation. Jazz Police calls his playing “never boring, often beautiful, and very rhythmically stimulating.”

Hanson and Bates have played countless gigs together over the past 30 years, but have never recorded an album with one another. Weights and Measures highlights their connection as friends and shines a light on their musical identities in new ways. A hallmark of the best improvised music is a sense that you are hearing personal energies combine and develop into fresh sounding creations. The saxophone and bass duo setting allows for more detail and nuance to emerge to the listener. Hanson’s saxophones fill the hall with clear and sonorous tones while Bates’ bass reveals depth and detail to his technique. The ambiance of the sanctuary contributes a presence that informs the music. Notes linger and fade, at times, sounds of the world outside can be detected. For half of the album, Bates was positioned in the choir loft and Hanson near the altar. For the other half they positioned themselves underneath the lower arches, facing each other across the narrow dimension of the sanctuary. Microphones were placed in a few strategic locations including a pair that were in the center of the space at least thirty feet in the air.

The period of quarantine and vaccine altered daily life so much for most people that it can be difficult to remember what happened when. As Hanson and Bates prepared this material for release they found themselves perplexed at the sudden loss of this skill. Hanson joked, “we need to use a new kind of calendar”. A quick internet search later revealed that John Nystrom already had this idea in 1895. Nystrom’s Project Of A New System Of Arithmetic, Weight, Measure And Coins, Proposed To Be Called The Tonal System, With Sixteen To The Base proposed ideas that felt familiar to the music Hanson and Bates recorded. The duo found themselves enchanted with the idea that someone had thought through new systems (weight, time, even musical notation) in thorough detail. Sentences and phrases from Nystom’s text leapt out as titles for most of the tracks on this album. It was clear to Hanson and Bates that the entire album was an attempt to weigh and measure the recent past.

The album begins with “Plasticity”. It suggests the changeable nature of the duo through several moods and textures. It is followed by “Valuate, Reckon” which are synonyms for weight and measurement and serve as an exploration of the dynamic possibilities of the duo.

Pit Oneself Against” is a dark and introspective reflection on the state of things.The title is taken from Nystrom’s writing as he considered the resistance he expected to encounter. Followed by “I Know That I Have Nature On My Side”, also taken from Nystrom as he acknowledged the need for his work. Hanson and Bates make the case for not abandoning hope for the return of equilibrium.

Using Nystrom’s sixteen-month calendar, the album was recorded on the “Eighth of Suvenary.” This piece evokes the almost-springtime feel of March in Minnesota. “One Turn of the Dial” considers the slow progression of waiting and hope for change.

Between the recording of Weights and Measures and its release, Dennis Gonzalez passed away. Trumpeter/composer/visual artist/linguist/polymath Gonzalez was an important figure for both Hanson and Bates, especially following their appearance with him in a concert of Gonzalez’ Hymn Project. “Hymn of Blessing and Loss (for Dennis Gonzalez)” is a sound portrait of Gonzalez’ impact as an artist, encourager, and role model for both Hanson and Bates. The album closes with “Not the Whole Story”, an invitation to consider what exists outside the frame of our limited perception, including the possibility that free jazz can be tonal.

Recorded in the spring of 2021 as many artists were emerging from the void of the pandemic lockdown, Weights and Measures is an album that quantifies a response to the losses and the blessings, and the disorientation of the last few years.