Tess Said So‘s follow-up to I Did That Tomorrow is another bright and colorful concoction, as cheerful as the cover art implies. The Australian duo of Will Larsen (percussion) and Rasa Daukus (piano) continues to fool the ear, as Scramble + Fate sounds more like the work of a small chamber ensemble. For this we credit the varied percussion, which includes shakers, glockenspiel, and (of course), drums, plus light electronic textures and a sweet mix of tempos.
After the tender, jazzy opener, “Be”, the listener is lulled into a cloud-like sense of contemplation. This increases the impact of the title track, which incorporates harder, faster piano, struck chimes, cymbals and bells. The adrenaline rises through the first two-thirds of the track, making the recession of the final third an opportunity to take a beautiful breath. After this, the xylophone, static and distant shimmers of “Mr. Jones” provide welcome dynamic contrast, amplified by a six-note chorus of hard-hit piano and bells. This attention to tonal quality ~ bursts of restraint and bursts of abandon ~ characterizes the album as a whole. One doesn’t expect to encounter such variety from a piano and percussion duo, and the biggest surprise may be that the drumming doesn’t begin in earnest until the fourth track, “Urgent Monday”, whose energy matches that of “The Snap Beans Aren’t Salty”, from the prior album.
As a whole, Scramble + Fate flows better than I Did That Tomorrow, which is still an excellent album. The new release is also a lot less jazzy, as modern composition adds the primary colors. In the digital era, it becomes harder to find albums that one wants to play as albums, as the tendency is to hand-pick a track or two and dispose of the rest. A single duff track can interrupt the flow and ruin the appeal. On this album, every track works, both individually and as part of the whole. From the wintry “The Lie Within” to the wistful “If”, the duo paints a gorgeous aural tapestry, worth returning to time and again. It’s everything a sophomore set should be: wiser, stronger, more assured. (Richard Allen)