Where are we? How did we get here? As I fall deeper into the spell that is Gwen Laster’s New Must 4tet’s Blue Lotus, I can’t help but reflect and let my emotions wander into dark corners. Stunning, timeless compositions and improvisations for two violins, viola, and cello echo pain, heartbreak, and triumph in a whirlwind performance. Albums like this – that show up in my inbox unexpectedly and that I wouldn’t have likely heard otherwise – remind me why I missed Foxy Digitalis so much.
Gwen Laster has a long, rich history as a musician, composer, and educator and Blue Lotus is a showcase. These songs are captivating, moving through space and time while drawing on pain and deep heartache, to find moments that bind. Skyward violin notes meander thoughtfully throughout “Awakening,” leading the way over a bed of swirling, interwoven strings. Equal parts a response to atrocity and a prayer of aspiration, the song always points to the path forward. I am in awe.
With the three-part Black Lives Matter suite that close out the album, the New Muse 4tet are searching. As discordant, disparate chaos breaks out midway through “Movement 1: Cigarette,” the horrors of the current moment scream out. It’s jarring and necessary. Bittersweet passages end the piece as the instruments come together in a final declaration of determination that are imbued throught “Movement 2: Three to Eleven.” Much of Blue Lotus – especially the closing suite – is not easy to take in, but that only underlines its impact.
Blue Lotus is an album with weight; emotionally heavy, stylistically dense, and technically brilliant, there are layers-upon-layers to unfold and upnack. Gwen Laster pushes through boundaries and easy classification to craft a moving, original album that finds as much in common with modern classical as it does blues and even free jazz. Laster and the New Muse 4tet are fearless and in that mindset find the freedom to leave this lasting mark.