Friday, May 27, 2011

Harrison Bankhead Sextet - Morning Sun / Harvest Moond [Engine]

Harrison Bankhead - bass
Ed Wilkerson - tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, didgeridoo
Mars Williams - alto, tenor, soprano and sopranino sax, clarinet, autoharp, wooden flute
James Sanders - violin
Avreeayl Ra - drums, percussion, wooden flute
Ernie Adams - percussion

Engine Records 2011

Harrison Bankhead appeared on numerous sessions and has been playing regularly with the most important figures of Chicagoan AACM scene like Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell or Nicole Mitchell, but (to my knowledge) this is his first session as a leader.

"Morning Sun / Harvest Moond" starts the album gentle as a breeze, fragile indeed like the sun beams of the morning sun, with soft intertwining lines by two flutes and two string instruments. Violin sound is enchantingly beautiful.
"Chicago Senorita" that follows is driven by a strong melodic bass groove, double percussion and staccato horn line - all just a platform to violin solo that starts charmingly melodic to slowly gain bit wilder momentum, groove is incessant as the music dances forward, light and joyful. The piece ends with ethnic percussion solo that keeps the dance alive.
"East Village" starts with free turmoil but it's actually another easy-going piece, lightly grooving, with the smile of the south african celebration song, featuring gentle and relaxed ensemble soloing.
"Over Under Inside Out" is supported by a bluesy bass walking, starts with some free-bop sax soloing (I'd say Mars Williams on alto but I could be wrong) and then all the hell breaks loose, the solo goes completely out, other instruments join in for the intense if short explosion, that leaves space for a passage of abstract improvisation, first moment really when the leader takes the front with a wild and raw bow solo, deep and passionate (fittingly complemented by some gongs and short and sharp phrases by violin).
While first four tracks are relatively short (5-6 minutes) and share a strongly composed, quite a song-like  coincise form, 3 consecutive ones are more freely improvised and develop into more multi-thematic and multi-dimensional forms (9-12 minutes).
"Red is the Color in Jean-Michel Basquiat's Silk Blue" starts with a reeds duo, great interplay display as Mars Williams and Ed Wilkerson co-create circling lines interchanging melodical and harmonic aspects. When the frenetic rhythm sections joins in, James Sanders' turn comes and his contribution to this album is invaluable, sharp and clear flights, predatory even, saxophones come back into the picture for inspiring group improvisation that dissolves into laid back jazz walking, with light syncopated accents on the plates, slow blues bass walking and searching sax soloing, while the violin introduces more disturbing moods every once in a while.
"22nd Street Hustle" (dedicated to Fred Anderson) stays faithful to the rhythmic principles of jazz and The Great Black Music, steady, hypnotic groove, searching solos and solo exchanges, never rushed, never forced, flowing naturally.
"Flying Through Your Dreams" continues to explore the AACM african elements, meditative, shamanic piece, starts with didgeridoo. The music is atmospheric and mysterious, quite enchanting. It smoothly mooves into the short "A Sketch of Leroy Jenkins" with hypnotic percussion sounds (plates, gongs, toms) and searching violin solo.

I rarely write song-by-song reviews but I feel that it was the best fitting for this cd. With great balance between accessible and joyful (first half) and expressive, exuberant and searching, but never excessive (second half), with a handfull of great solo performances but focused on ensemble sound. I have a great respect for Harrison Bankhead who doesn't push himself forward (I think he only solos twice on the album) and keeps the group together around his grooves. The double percussion team works wonders providing a rhythm structures that are dense and energetic. James Sanders on violin contribution to this ensemble is huge - the violin sound is crip, the soloing sharp, the themes played on this classical instrument bring a new element to the african-jazz palette - rich with double bass, double percussion line and double horn-frontline. A splendid effort that I highly recommend to any fans of Chicagoan AACM scene, or those who are looking fo an introduction to this music.

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