Fantastic Merlins
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Fantastic Merlins


Band Jazz Avant-garde


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"These People Know What They're Doing"

Debut EP for a quartet playing an exquisite assortment of contemporary styles and whose lineup comprises Nathan Hanson (tenor sax), Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan (cello), Brian Roessler (bass) and Federico Ughi (drums). Although some incontrovertible influences are caught here and there - Curlew circa Tom Cora, to name one - these people know what they're doing; desolate themes, vigorous lines and engaging improvisations are intertwined with delicate concentration and a masterful pacing of every section, the tension/release ratio remaining at a constantly balanced grade. On top of everything, the musicians look for a collective coherence rather than straining
themselves to put their excellent technical value in front of the listener, which is a major plus in this 30-minute CD anticipating a full-length album that I'll
be very curious to listen to.
- Touching Extremes (Italy)

"Flat-Out Beauty"

The Fantastic Merlins make improvised music with the spirit that's the impetus behind the best jazz. They might not have chord progressions, they may not blow the way that Charlie Parker did, but they capture the intensity, freedom and flat-out beauty of some of John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler.
--Pulse Magazine (Steve McPherson)

- Pulse Magazine

"A Band for Bored Ears"

It's refreshing when a band like the Fantastic Merlins comes along and is able to truly push the limits of jazz improvisation, pulling in a variety of genre-bending elements while maintaining enough familiarity and melodic substance to captivate the listener...They are a band for bored ears.
--How Was the Show (Andrea Myers)


"Hear Them In Person"

I also recommend hearing The Fantastic Merlins...They're working on the fertile turbulent boundaries of many musical categories, setting their classical training and adventurous spirits on jazz bedrock--definitely a way to get the Paul Seal of'd best get out and hear them in person!
--Minnesota Public Radio (Paul Cantrell)

- Minnesota Public Radio

"Boundary Breaking Sonic Journey"

Bringing together an unconventional mix of instruments and a shared penchant for experimentation, New York and Minneapolis based combo the Fantastic Merlins make music that's unpredictable and steeped in emotion. Alternately upbeat and meditative, the cello, bass, sax and drum interplay make for a sound that's part avant-garde jazz, part chamber music, part boundary-breaking sonic journey.
-- Mliwaukee Shepherd Express

- Milwaukee Shepherd Express

"One for the record books"

Make no mistake about it: The Fantastic Merlins' Look Around is a fantastic album that stands aside from the pack in almost every way. It is infused with a gorgeous milieu tempered by chamber sounds although it is not chamber music, and it is often thrilling, and worthy of making at least some "top ten" lists for 07 releases.

Produced by tenor saxophonist Nathan Hanson, the Fantastic Merlins is an unusual group. In addition to Hanson on tenor sax, it is comprised of Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan on cello, Brian Roessler on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums, with Hanson and Ferrier-Ultan doubling on electronics. ...the group seems much larger than it is, and it offers a plethora of pleasures. Hanson is an extraordinary performer on sax, with a beautiful tone and concept. He has a full, rich sound that is highlighted on "It Would Seem". But it is the interrelationship of the sax, cello, acoustic bass, and drums that produces such a special sound. This is clearly a group effort, with collective improvisation the norm.

The results are not chaotic but appear carefully orchestrated with extraordinary blowing. Federico Ughi is characteristically splendid, his drums serving as much more than a rhythmic undercurrent, as he participates as a full member of the quartet. Swirling interconnectedness, lush carpet-like sonorities, and heavy emphasis on the strings combine to create continual moments of incendiary momentum. Tim Duroche's detailed liner notes add to the understanding of the music. (example: "the elegiac sea-to shining-sea momentum and narrative quality is worthy of classic Morricone.")

This is one for the record books.

--Steven Loewy - Cadence Magazine


Fantastic Merlins is the four piece group consisting of Nathan Hanson (tenor saxophone), Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan (cello), Brian Roessler (bass), and Federico Ughi (drums). Together, these four individuals play unpredictable improvisational instrumental music that incorporates elements of jazz, modern classical, and modern mood music. The seven-plus minute opening track ("Look Around") is a rather wild way to begin an album. The piece is heady and meandering...often relying more on sounds than on melodies and the percussion that is present is rather random and spontaneous. But just when you think the band is heading too far into the deep end, they snap back with a slightly more conventional modern jazz piece ("I Was Behind the Couch All the Time"). The third track ("A Very Small Animal") is odd and strangely spooky and confusing. These folks' ability to alternative between atmospheric mood music and esoteric modern jazz is impressive indeed. Other standout tracks include "Dance Partner," "Lenny," "Line," and "Bright and Wide." The playing is precise and determined and the sound quality is exceptional. The folks in Fantastic Merlins teeter in and out of experimental territory...while retaining enough familiar elements to hold their listeners' attention. Excellent. - BabySue

"A Band With Vision"

A band with vision that is literally part NYC, part Minneapolis, and spiritually part free jazz and part string quartet, the Merlins make magic with a power and precision that is at times awesome, at other times inspirational. Their blend of cello, bass, drums and sax is wide enough to give each member a chance to inhale the melody and take it to varying heights, but to always return to the heated center.

Majestic and exhilarating, "I Was Behind The Couch All The Time" and "A Very Small Animal" are the key tracks, with "Runoff Water" also a standout gem. But this whole set is infused with the raw goals beyond of Ayler and Garzone, a "Bright and Wide" reaching for the sublime, as another of their songs imply. Confident and not afraid to risk failure, Fantastic Merlins rise above even their own high expectations on this mighty release.
by Mike Wood - Foxy Digitalis

"Listeners Can't Lose With Fantastic Merlins"

Today's multi-stylistic jazz groups are often ignored not only by young music bloggers, but also by old-guard jazz fans reluctant to embrace anything outside traditional bebop. Creative musicians can't win. But open-minded listeners can't lose with the Fantastic Merlins. Cellist Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan and bassist Brian Roessler lay down an abundance of cinematic and spooky low-end grooves. Over that mix, saxophonist Nathan Hanson and percussionist Federico Ughi weave and moan. But throughout this smoldering set, instruments veer in and out of each other's tonal range for a exploration that's often solemn and organically psychedelic.

JIM MEYER - Minnesota Monthly Magazine

"superb...suprisingly adventurous"

A whisper of brushed snares, two metallic taps, a snatch of the faintest human voice, and then strings open onto a vast plain of reverberant sound and slowly evolving drone. The opening moments of Look Around evoke multiple landscapes, layers of sonic possibility that are then realized throughout this superb and surprisingly adventurous disc. How many groups claim use of electronics only to disappoint? Here, they shape perspective, providing subtlety and adding delicate shades, never trumpeting their existence as anything but symbiotic. Even when obvious, as in the transition between “Line” and “Bright and Wide,” or at the opening of “It Would Seem,” the loops only enhance, or reassert, saxophonist Nathan Hanson’s seductively pithy motives. Usually though, the group aesthetic, “free jazz” with a “rock” edge, is rendered refreshingly cinematic with electronic aid. “It Would Seem” finds cellist Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan and bassist Brian Roessler in frenzied dialogue, increasing reverb giving the impression that Ferrier-Ultan is gradually leaving the jazz-inflected environment for some distant place. Only when Hanson swoops in does the jump-cut transformation reveal itself in full, Federico Ughis’s drumming sealing the rhetorical deal with hard-edged funk precision. Likewise, “A Very Small Animal”’s mysterious opening sounds anything but diminutive as vast reverberant chasms are sculpted and traversed in gorgeous counterpoint, the texture slowly building to Ughi’s increasingly dense but translucent interjections. Ughi really shows astonishing versatility here, able to match any group gesture with well-placed support or a gentle nudge in another direction. The others are no less inventive, transcending post-modern superficiality to create a convincing stylistic blend. Innova is the perfect label for the Merlins, who bring just a touch of Musique Concret to the core of this fine production, yet another layer of reference adding equal interest. It will be fascinating to see down which avenue of discovery the quartet chooses to lope, jump or run.
by Marc Medwin - Signal to Noise


Fantastic Merlins with Kid Dakota: How the Light Gets In (Hope Street) Mar 2010

Fantastic Merlins: A Handful of Earth (Fantastic Merlins) Oct 2009

Fantastic Merlins: Look Around (Innova), Aug 2007
2007 Grammy Semi-Finalist, "Best Jazz Instrumental Album"



Intensely cinematic, the rare beauty of the Fantastic Merlins begins with the group's blend of tenor saxophone, cello, bass, and drums. What's been called their gift for the psychedelic is really more of an alchemical interplay. Like the bass-piano-clarinet dynamics of Jimmy Giuffre's Freefall, the group executes a sensual game of freeze-tag between figure and ground. At moments angular and aggressive, but rarely ever austere, the music's textural elements breathe exceptional warmth into elliptical spaces. Bass, cello, saxophone intertwine for a honey-rich choral effect, splinter with steely "abkratzen," and epitomize chamber music (both in the sense of containment and a subversive sense of surface attraction). It's the soundtrack of a strange and beautiful love affair.

Musically they are the spiritual kin of bass sorcerer Francois Rabbath; Albert Ayler's vibrational, gospel-tinged sonorities; Frisell's spacious, meteorological impulses; Sonny Rollins' hopscotch antics; Morricone's redolent lozenges of mood and memory; and 1980s shoot-from-the-hip, NYC-downtown avant-gardisms that ricochet between angular swing and curveball poetics. While not outwardly a JAZZ group (in the verse-chorus-bridge-solo-solo-solo sense), the Fantastic Merlins' approach to rhythm and space is firmly rooted in a freewheeling jazz sensibility.

Jean Cocteau once said, "The public does not like dangerous profundities; it prefers surfaces." The values of jazz and improvised music are typically an affront to the polite surface of life. Call it a left-handed form of human endeavor, but the Fantastic Merlins' subversive aesthetics are a threat to The Man. They embrace a daring velocity, a dissonant wail, a noir-ish sense of sensuality, intimacy, and risk, they embody freedom and possess, dare I say, a democratic appeal.