Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Max Johnson - Quartet [Not Two]

Mark Whitecage - alto saxophone, clarinet
Steve Swell - trombone
Max Johnson - bass
Tyshawn Sorey - drums

Not Two 2012

I think any reader of this blog is familiar with the names of Steve Swell, Mark Whitecage and Tyshawn Sorey. Who is Max Johnson you ask? Well, Max Johnson is the guy who gathered the three above mentioned in his band to release his debut cd. Such manpower in the hands of a new guy demand attention as well as caution.

The "Quartet" starts with a real kick  - "Elephant March" with a heavy riff and rusty bone solo is a treat (just check the track yourself, it's available below). "Lost and Found" (dedicated to Henry Grimes) is an abstract, darkly hued picture, based on a close interaction between hushed clarinet and rustling trombone. 
"60-66" serves as a centerpiece of the album. A suite where, after a melodic, richly coloured introduction the quartet gets segmented  - it starts with an energetic bass - trombone duo, abstract clarinet - bone section, frenetic bass - drums interlude, short yet heated sax - bone match and once again the rhythm section - this time with spare sounds, colouring the space for the next duet untill the quartet states again the theme for the finale. A piece which in a series of miniatures shows a variety of approaches to the rhythm, structure and nature of interplay, there's fun, fire and abstract.

The music played by the quartet is rooted deep and free jazz tradition, anchored by the rhythmic base, colourfull, vivid, rich melodies. The spiritual "Atonement" with its warm, uplifting melody  passed between the clarinet and trombone, reminds you of the great AACM records of the 70s.  "Iset-Ra" sounds like a folk-dance, dynamic and passionate festivity celebration. gets heated with the mercurial sax solo (some kick-ass drumming as well, along with the mightily struck bass strings).

"Quartet" is one of those albums that show deep appreciation and profound understanding of free-jazz tradition. The melodies are enchanting, the playing is powerfull, the improvisations are wild yet focused. This music presents balance between the elements of composed and spontanteous as well as the ones of collective and individual. The musical vision is cohesive in all its integral parts and so is its execution. Max Johnson, a bass player and a leader, never foces his instrument on the top of the others but uses it as a fundament for the others to rely on. A sign of true leadership. "Quartet" is crystal pure jazz. One of the biggest surprises of the previous year, a truly impressive debut that catches you by surprise. 

ps. Thank you kickstarter (the cd release was funded by a kickstarter campaign)!

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