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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ralph Alessi, Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock & Tom Rainey - Lark (Skirl, 2014) ****½

By Filip 'Booka' Bukrshliev

Every album that ends with someone whistling a happy tune - it’s a good album. No matter what style, genre or quality, if you hear whistling at the end – Good Album. LARK ends with a whistle, and then some…

First of all, with this piece of music I prefer the mystery wrapped tightly around it. The thing is, I don’t have the liner-notes or any other information about this particular album. I don’t know when or where it’s recorded, I don’t know who wrote the music or if there is any music written beforehand, I don’t know in what way this is connected to the session for Obbligato (Intakt, 2014), if it's connected at all. In other words – I know nothing about this album, and that is a very good thing.  I will base this review on not knowing, discrediting the fact that every regular visitor on FreeJazzBlog, such as myself – has a little shrine at his/hers home for each of the musicians on LARK.

Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, Ralph Alessi offer us a very intricate 60+ minutes on LARK, an album with a rarely seen need for attention. The not-knowing part comes in handy during the first listen, with the first mystery that unveils the question - is this completely improvised or some written material was brought by some of the musicians? I have spent like hours and days with that question. It is simply unreal how Ingrid / Ralph / Kris / Tom feed of each other ideas, how they complement each other movement, how they hold patiently till their time comes. This simply can not be improvised, or I’m listening to some very rare and genuine improvised mastery. The musicians in this quartet had played countless times together in different formations, many of them with composed material – but this doesn’t sound like it. I can't recognize anything that references Ingrid Laubrock's material, like last’s year Anti-House or Paradoxical Frog. Ralph Alessi, on this album is more like a gentler, more subtle version of Taylor Ho Bynum, bursting bright “bird” sounds all over the place, nothing with what you’ll connect him to Baida (ECM, 2014) or any recent release of his. Well, maybe the more open and brave parts of his This Against That formation, but that’s all you get.

The thing that bothers me the most is how melodic this album, even when they all play different things in the same time in a very small and confined space. Especially then, it's just too deeply melodic. Every time you point your ears to it, the music unveils some different layer, you catch some phrase and how that phrase leads to a new movement. All the way, this music kindly revards the listener with complex melodic subtleties that that are the most important clues that form the general picture. And it’s a never ending process with this album. You don’t get often music that has this amount of inspiration and depth. Take Tom Rainey for instance, no matter what the others are doing, he just grooves the hell out of it (certainly, not in the common sense of groove) and with his realy warm and nice sound, makes this music quite accessible. Not his usual thing, but man, he does it with such vigor.

Bottom line, for this to be composed and previously prepared, even in a completely democratic, almost utopian collaboration for the composing – they had a really tough job and a really hard time getting it done. That’s how good its sounds. The clarity of the language from all the four musicians and the narrative is just simply stunning. No matter what the nature is behind this release, improvised or composed, LARK is a pure thriller, a greatly told story. It unfolds right in front of the listener with an unparalleled graciousness.

At the very end I should point out that this is my second try for reviewing this. The first got scratched because it was a standard take on the review form. LARK does not need a standard review form. I just felt the need to show affection towards it, and I hope I managed to do that. Now you go and listen to it and whistle at the end.