Review by John Sharpe in The New York City Jazz Record (May 2018)

Named after a family of deep-sea predatory fish, Stomiidae unites three of New York’s finest avant talents in a suitably immersive experience. Although cellist Daniel Levin is a generation older than saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and guitarist Brandon Seabrook, he matches their raw intensity and sense of unbridled adventure on a program of seven improvised cuts crafted over two days in the studio. In doing so they go one better than French novelist Georges Perec, who famously wrote a book without using the letter “e”, by avoiding not only “e” but all the other notes as well in music drawn from the extremes.

Seabrook deploys a range of unconventional timbres with sure-footed inspiration and spiky energy while Pitsiokos starts at the point where other reed players climax a solo, with textures that might be taken to signal emotional turmoil, and fashions a personal language of squeals, quacks and modulating drones. For his part Levin puts aside his customary virtuosity in favor of a litany of creaks, rustles and knocks. But that’s not to say the album lacks those virtues that make any musical performance compelling: narrative shape, tension, empathetic dynamics and sonic depth.

The pieces often reveal an affecting arc from the urgent and restless into warm exchanges like the almost homey conversational dialogue of cello sighs and querulous alto whistles ending “Photonectes Gracilis” or dreamy ruminations concluding “Opostomias Micripnus”. The threesome demonstrate their mastery of dynamics on “Chauliodus Danae”, which suddenly accelerates from a restrained colloquy of crackles, beeps and squeaks to red-lining power before subsiding just as quickly. Such spontaneous shifts provide one of the joys of this set, with another being the constant surprise at how they respond to each other’s promptings in ways both unanticipated and yet, in retrospect, almost inevitably apt.

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