Anyone who has heard Quin Kirchner’s magnum opus The Shadows and the Light knows that he’s a percussive force. The double-LP set literally dances with vibrant rhythms. Additionally, Rob Clearfield’s organ and piano work on that record is incredibly engaging, shining through or blending in whenever the mood suits it. Concentric Orbits arose from those moments during the Shadows sessions where Clearfield and Kirchner were the only ones in the room. Kirchner wanted to capitalize on the presence of the ex-pat Clearfield, who was visiting his native Chicago from his new base of operations in France. The two veteran musicians sparred accordingly, and these epic side-long tracks are the result.
The electrons in an atom circle the nucleus at varying orbital distances, each with a different energy level. Similarly, Clearfield and Kirchner’s two “orbits” move with unique amounts of vibrancy. “Orbit 1” is airy and loose. Kirchner employs the brushes to soften his pummel and Clearfield focuses on a short, repeated melodic phrase. The duo match energies throughout, even when pianist Clearfield diverges from the ostinato to deliver twinkling bursts of light from the ivories. Kirchner’s cymbals and chimes are right there to enhance the sparkle. As the piece fades from view, the short riff reappears to propel clouds of soft cymbal resonance that eventually dissipate.
“Orbit 2” is a feistier affair. Clearfield has augmented his piano with objects, to dampen the resonance and bring about strange timbres. Kirchner’s drumming keeps pace with the short piano stabs, and the pair create a vortex of rapidly swirling sounds. This is sparring of the highest order, as an almost martial rhythm takes shape. Clearfield and Kirchner’s march, however, is not of this world. And then, the duo seemingly turns on a dime, unleashing a swinging groove that Clearfield ornaments with deftly executed phrases from his right hand. Concentric Orbits showcases the symbiosis of this pair of tightly synchronized musicians. Like electrons, they can move with varying amounts of energy, creating beautiful music in the process.