Monday, February 20, 2006

Black History Month: Monads - Triple Slow Mix - Cycle - Shadowgraph, 5 (Sextet)

The celebration of Black History Month at HurdAudio continues with an ear wrapped around Monads - Triple Slow Mix - Cycle - Shadowgraph, 5 (Sextet) by George Lewis from 1977.

There's such a balance of austerity and improvised vitality to the music of George Lewis. This disc is a great sampling of sonic ideas that hold a strong attraction.

"Monads" is scored/performed for piano (Anthony Davis), bass clarinet (Douglas Ewart), violin (Leroy Jenkins), alto and tenor trombones (George Lewis), soprano saxophone (Roscoe Mitchell) and cello (Abdul Wadud). This work explores some sparse textures that allow ample room for improvised focal points. Leroy Jenkins spins some great material that balances well, and is reflected against, the full ensemble of outstanding talent working behind him. Some tasty harmonies poke through sparingly from Anthony Davis on the piano. This is an exquisite texture. This one has the quality of an abstract painting of angular lines and vibrant colors rendered in sound.

"Triple Slow Mix" is a trio for two pianos and sousaphone. Muhal Richard Abrams is panned hard left, Anthony Davis is panned hard right and George Lewis holds down the center on the sousaphone. The generous use of "inside the piano" sounds from Davis and vocalizations from Abrams provides a delicate bed for the phrases and drones of the sousaphone part. This work is surprisingly dynamic - both in loud-to-soft range and sonic texture. And the sense of time feels enormously elastic in this composition. The consistency of the sousaphone material supplies a cohesive element to some wildly varied material from these pianists.

"Cycle" is multi-instrumental duet scored for Douglas Ewart on clarinet, bassoon, sopranino saxophone and percussion and George Lewis on Moog synthesizer, tenor trombone and Wagner tuba. The analog sounds balanced against the clarinet at the start of this track brings an involuntary smile. There's a beautiful, focused tone to this performance as each shifts frequently between instruments. George Lewis' spoken voice ringing through the body of the trombone sounds remarkably similar to the sounds he coaxes from the Moog synthesizer.

"Shadowgraph, 5 (Sextet)" is scored/performed for piano (Muhal Richard Abrams), flute, Ewart bamboo flute, cassette recorder/recitation, percussion (Douglas Ewart), viola (Leroy Jenkins), tenor trombone, Wagner Tuba, sousaphone, sound-tube (George Lewis), alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, cassette recorder, soprano saxophone, flute (Roscoe Mitchell) and cello (Abdul Wadud). The entire Shadowgraph Series is some of my all-time favorite George Lewis material and this is a pretty outstanding ensemble realizing this one. This one opens with short, well-directed bursts of activity marked by enormous reserve from each of these potentially explosive and dominating performers. Things slowly open up as the focal point skips effortlessly from performer-to-performer in some breathtakingly creative ways.

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