The uncompromising integrity of Kevin Norton’s Barking Hoop label is once more on display in Frozen Ropes, featuring alto sax great Oliver Lake and three beautiful string painters, namely violinist Rob Thomas (who’s collaborated with artists as diverse as Andy Summers, John McLaughlin and Lee Konitz), guitarist James Emery (formerly one of Steve Reich’s Musicians) and bass maestro John Lindberg. The album consists of five tracks – four originals and a Coltrane cover – each with its distinct personality, reciprocal active listening generating magical interplay. Lake’s opener “Shiffs” is jazz meets modern chamber music, its score calling for timbral nuances, a graceful entwining of slightly dissonant periods and some articulated soloing, to the delight of those who dream of a cross between Django Reinhardt and Alban Berg. John Lindberg penned the title track, in which a splendid conversation leads to a thought-provoking exploration of instrumental virtuosity and nervous rhythmic energy, Lake and Thomas flying high over a multidimensional foundation laid down by Emery and Lindberg, who swap roles at the blink of an eyelid. Lake’s own “Reminds Me” and Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament” are both classic ballads, yet the musicians approach them with reverent savoir-faire, studiously avoiding the deadly boredom of the conventional cadenzas heard in a million jazz clubs, thanks in no small part to Emery’s shimmering uncluttered chordal work. The guitarist is also the author of the most peculiar track of the CD, “Texas Koto Blues”, which is divided into three parts, the first an overcharged blues that, after three and a half minutes makes way for a raga-like reflection on the many facets of free playing before ending with a bold thematic statement as Lake joins the Trio in a joyously life-affirming orchestral presence.