Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pomegranate Up Front

Composer, conceptualist and cornetist Stephen Haynes releases his new CD today June 9.  Titled "Pomegranate" (New Atlantis Records), the album catches Mr. Haynes with an exciting quintet that features Joe Morris (guitar), Ben Stapp (tuba), William Parker (contrabass violin, sintir, bass shakuhachi), and the amazing percussionist Warren Smith (drums, percussion, marimba). The recording captures the musicians in the performance space of Firehouse 12 in March of 2013 with music dedicated to Haynes' teacher and mentor Bill Dixon (1925-2010). In the notes on the recording's Bandcamp page, it is written that Mr. Dixon "loved the low end and he would have dug this instrumentation."  There are instances throughout the album that one is reminded of Henry Threadgill's Zooid, specifically in the blend of the tuba and guitar.

photo by Enid Farber
But, this is most certainly the intersection of Mr. Dixon's teaching, Mr. Haynes' fertile imagination and the big ears/open minds of the musicians involved. The title track, for instance, goes from a quiet conversation between the cornet, bass and drums to a high-energy full band groove.  The musicians move from being on top of Mr. Smith's powerful drumming to playing behind the beat to exciting chatter.  A blend of African rhythms and Southeast Asian elements infuse "Mangui Fii Reek (I am Still Here)" with a lighter quality that pulls one in - pay attention to the rhythmic variations in the guitar and bass plus how the drummer accents and complements them.  "Becoming" (the longest track at 17:18) opens with the sound of air through the cornet before Morris creates a hypnotic rhythm and the rhythm section moves underneath. The textures of the marimba and moaning/shimmering guitar give Haynes room to move through the piece. As everyone contributes to the flow, the music becomes hypnotic (especially during the splendid guitar solo).

William Parker anchors the light-hearted "Crepuscular" with a repetitive yet funky bass line while the marimba dances, the tuba whistles below (yes, whistles!) and the guitar plays delightful circular phrases.  Mr. Haynes moves in and out of the mix, actually stepping out of the song for last few minutes.  he's front and center for a fiery solo on the final track "Odysseus (Lashed to the Mast)" - here, the high-energy emitted by the rhythm section spurs the soloists forward (Stapp stands out in both a supportive role and as a soloist.)

jazz chicago 2007
"Pomegranate" stands out for its impressive music but moreso for the the interplay of the ensemble, their commitment to the project and for how Stephen Haynes and company harness/channel the myriad influences each person brings to the performance. It most certainly a tribute to the teaching and mentorship that Bill Dixon (pictured) gave to Mr. Haynes and all the people he taught over his career.

For more information, go to newatlantisrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pomegranate.

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