Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chromatic Scars Along the Universe

Chromatic Mysteries @ The Windup Space, Baltimore, MD
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marshall Allen: alto saxohpone, evi
Elliott Levin: tenor saxophone, curved soprano saxophone, flute, poetry
Michael Gibbons: electric guitar
Ed Ricart: electric guitar, processing (and lots of it)
Scott Verrastro: drums, percussion

One gets the feeling that Marshall Allen simply taps into some cosmic force, then channels its radioactive energy into something mere mortals might perceive. Over the course of two long, single movement sets the Chromatic Mysteries charted a course for sonic territory unbounded by gravitational forces. Armed with passports from Jupiter and Philadelphia, this quintet managed to steer well beyond mere spaced-out jam session and into a focused, free improvisation of blistering and relentless outward expansion. This was the sound of improvisation when it locks onto something tangible without becoming bounded. And that is a beautiful thing.

Marshall Allen and Elliott Levin worked as the front men in this textural odyssey. Allen bringing his characteristic laser-like stare and sweeping alto lines along with his square-wave infused EVI playing. Levin proved to be no stranger to this territory as he brought his own aggressive energy - particularly with his "barely controlled" explosions on the curved soprano saxophone - and occasional poetry to bear upon the sound.

Working behind these fire breathing reeds men was the remarkable two-guitar and drums rhythm section that transitioned seamlessly between ostinato progressions and free form textures boiling over with noise and grit. Scott Verrasto moved between a table filled with percussive materials and drum kit - feeling his way into and out of grooves as the tide of the music rose and fell. Late in the first set he circled around behind the audience with a hand held gong that tastefully added a spatial component to the relentlessly mind expanding sound flooding the room.

Experiencing the Chromatic Mysteries live and up close is an exhilarating and exhausting ride. Few performances take this sense of adventure - and good taste - to such an extreme. Chromatic Mysteries plants many, many seeds of possibility along their route as one of the most mind-blowing live bands I've seen in some time.

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