Monday, February 06, 2006

Black History Month: Capricorn Rising

Black History Month continues at HurdAudio with ears tuned toward Capricorn Rising from October 16-17, 1975 by pianist Don Pullen and reedsman Sam Rivers. The rest of the quartet on this recording consists of Alex Blake on bass and Bobby Battle on drums. This is a great record and should be part of any serious jazz collection.

This experience begins with "Break Out," composed by Sam Rivers. The tenor sax comes on front and center with some confident, free improvisation with Don Pullen as the perfect foil both as collaborative improviser and intuitive accompanist. The rhythm section keeps things moving well forward at a steady clip as Rivers and Pullen paint with large splashes of sonic color. About 7 and a half minutes into this work Alex Blake begins to emulate Pullen's textures on the acoustic bass as Sam Rivers switches over to soprano sax. The ripple of color across the texture at this point is delicious. This piece closes with a dense chord on the piano that is allowed to decay naturally as the sound rolls around inside the instrument.

"Capricorn Rising" is a Don Pullen composition that harnesses the aggressive energy of this quartet in a different direction from the opening track. The flute lines over the double-time walking bass are a nice touch as Pullen and Battle push things along tempo-wise. Don Pullen had such amazing technique on his instrument. He moves effortlessly through a wide range of controlled to barely controlled shades of improvisational freedom. In one moment he's unfolding some intricate, near chorale-like chord voicings and at the next moment he's ripping across the 88-notes at breakneck speeds like a painter splashing a can of paint on a canvas. There's plenty of outstanding piano work on display here. The drum solo by Bobby Battle toward the end is particularly satisfying.

"Joycie Girl" pulls things inside harmonically as this Don Pullen composition lays down a steady groove and a melodic line that rests comfortably within some familiar chord changes. One can even pick out the AABA form throughout the solos on this one. But the solos lose none of the edge found in the free improvisations heard earlier. It's a real pleasure to hear these artists work so well both "inside" and "outside" the many sounds and sides of the jazz genre.

This listening experience concludes with "Fall Out" by Sam Rivers. This one opens with a great intro on the bass before the drums kick in and lay down a foundation for some rich sax and piano work. Pullen explores the extreme registers on the instrument as Rivers explores phrasing that moves between conversational and expressive human cries on the horn. Like "Joycie Girl," this composition seems to come inside from the blistering freedom of the opening two tracks. And again Pullen weaves thick sheets of sound along the keyboard that would careen well out of control if attempted by mere mortals. At times his percussive playing takes on all the dizzying complexity of a master Tabla drummer. The soft clusters he places perfectly underneath Rivers' flute solo is incredible. During the bass solo, Pullen reaches inside the piano and matches the moment with some tasteful strumming and rhythmic plucking of the guts of his instrument. All four of these pieces are dense with great moments like these.

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