Trombonist Peter Lin seems to have his finger on the pulse of a jazz from a certain time, not so much the late ’50s as the early ’60s. He’s more Impulse! than Blue Note, less exploratory and more celebratory of the fences that have already been knocked down in advance of his arrival. Lin, who hails from New Orleans, has settled into this very specific sound on his new album New Age Old Ways. I had a chance to review his last album, With Respect, less than a year ago and I found that same adherence to that same jazz truth, that there’s more to discover once you erase the borders. That album slyly mixed ’60s jazz with more than a passing nod to Lin’s Taiwanese heritage. As I wrote, “It’s only fitting that this is the young man who can make these songs from halfway around the world sound so distinctly American, so perfectly fitted to classic jazz idioms.”
On New Age Old Ways, Lin reduces his “Lintet,” a large group of revolving musicians, to a spare quartet comprised of tenor sax player JD Allen, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacioppo. That’s important because Lin always strives for simplicity in his original compositions, and he can make even a relatively large ensemble seem intimate and focused. With just four musicians on the stage, he creates a sound that actually opens up and expands into freer realms–not free jazz, per se, but free from constraint. If you’re a fan of the jazz trombone as lead, and I am, you’ll admire the way Lin leads this quartet into a sometimes wild, but still carefully structured performance.
While Lin departs from the exotic Taiwanese musical themes that made With Respect so unique, his connection to the Taiwanese community is still a vital force in his compositions for New Age Old Ways. “Akong,” for example, is a “send-off” to Lin’s grandfather who passed away last year at the age of 90. An accomplished professor and chemist, Lin’s grandfather “instilled in us a passion for our own career paths,” and the almost gleeful song “encapsulates his infectious positive aura” in a clearly tangible way, almost highlighting the idea that this man is still watching his grandson with an enormous amount of pride.
If you listen deep, however, the Taiwanese roots emerge in very subtle ways. “Song of the Amis,” for example, uses the distinct rhythmic and ceremonial cues from this Taiwanese culture–you might even recognize the Indonesian origins of the Ami if you dig deep. That’s the gift hiding deep in Lin’s music, after all, that it’s all loose and free and impulsive from a distance but so deep and complex if you allow enough time for the ideas to emerge. New Age Old Ways is not an entry point for new jazz fans, but it is scholarly in a fun way, and Lin’s confidence in his own personal growth is welcome in every note.