|photo by Alice Gebura|
"Rivers of Sound" is a perfect name for this group - for many centuries, the river (and the seas and oceans) was one of the primary sources of cultural and economic movement. That interaction between people of different cultures, when benign, help to infuse different sounds and words (as well as customs) into the everyday life of cities and countrysides.
Above all, Amir ElSaffar makes "human" music: joy, sadness, anger, humor, intermingle with other emotions. Give yourself up to and immerse yourself into "Not Two" - the pleasures are endless.
For more information, go to www.amirelsaffar.com.
Rivers of Sound Orchestra:
Personnel: Amir ElSaffar (trumpet, santur, vocals), Carlo DeRosa (acoustic bass), Craig Taborn (piano), Dena ElSaffar (violin, jowza - 4-stringed bowed instrument), Fabrizio Cassol (alto saxophone), JD Parran (bass saxophone, clarinet), Ole Mathisen (tenor and soprano saxophones), Mohammed Saleh (oboe, English Horn), Naseem Alatrash (cello), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Miles Okazaki (guitar), George Ziadeh (oud, vocals), Tareq Abboushi (buzuq), Nasheet Waits (drums), Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam), Tim Moore (percussion, dumbek, frame drum), Zaafir Tawil (peecussion, oud).
His new album, "Morphogenesis" (Pi Recordings), features a new ensemble, Natal Eclipse, an octet without a drummer (Neeraj Mehta adds a percussive voice on four of the nine tracks but she is not a trap set drummer). Besides the leader, there are two reed players (tenor saxophonist Maria Grand and clarinetist Rane Moore) plus the wondrous voice of Jen Shyu that gives this music a bit of a lighter feel than other Coleman recording. The composer has stated that this music was inspired by his study and appreciation for boxing, hence titles such as "Shoulder Roll", "Dancing and Jabbing", and "Inside Game." Both Ms. Moore and bassist Greg Chudzik are members of the "modern-classical group Talea Ensemble (and are members, along with violinist Kristin Lee, of the leader's Council of Balance ensemble) while Ms. Grand, Ms. Shyu, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, and pianist Matt Mitchell have been involved with others of Mr. Coleman's groups.
"...biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape.") The first piece builds from the percussion slowly developing rhythm, the clarion call of the alto sax, deep bass notes, and Ms. Shyu's vocal into an arresting exploration. The second piece also starts slowly, this time from a melodic fragment played by the alto sax into a delightful sonic puzzle. Note how each member of the ensemble plays the rhythm of the piece at one time or another.
It has been noted time and again that Steve Coleman is a musical descendant from Charlie Parker but I can hear Henry Threadgill, at times, in his sound but especially in his adventurous compositions. The manner in the composer utilizes each voice, how the support of the bass and piano often are in rhythmic counterpoint to the soloists. The clarity of the recording stands out as well, the sonic "weight" of the bass is as important as that of the clarinet and violin, never overshadowing any instrument but equal. When listening to pieces such as "Morphing" or "Horda", you'll hear echoes of music from the Middle East, the Deep South of the United States, 19th and 20th Century European classical music, be bop, and more, all part of the evolving language of Mr. Coleman's music.
As with the ElSaffar recording above, listen to "Morphogenesis" all the way through before going into deeper explorations. Approach the program as a live concert where it is impossible for a listener to hear everything. Then dig in. Enjoy the powerful melodies, listen to the excellent solos (the leader is generous in making sure every voice is heard throughout), follow the different trails the composer lays out for his ensemble members, take your time to enjoy this impressive recording. Natal Eclipse refers to astrology and certainly has great meaning for the composer. For the purposes of this music, the group is an engaging balancing act. Steve Coleman is continually exploring and we are the beneficiaries.
For more information, go to m-base.com/biography/ and to pirecordings.com/album/pi69.
Here's a taste:
Personnel: Steve Coleman (compositions, alto saxophone), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Maria Grand (tenor saxophone), Rane Moore (clarinet), Kristin Lee (violin), Jen Shyu (vocals), Matt Mitchell (piano), Greg Chudzik (bass), Neeraj Mehta (percussion).