- Eyal Hareuveni
Stephen Haynes - Pomegranate
Trumpet and cornet player Stephen Haynes is one of those highly under-recorded musicians, but also a person who has great admiration for many other musicians, and lots of performance activities in various bands, and possibly all this leads to a humility which reduces his own published output. But when he does release music, it is of the best possible kind : high quality, strong musical vision and always in the company of great musicians. That was the case with "The Double Trio" from 2008, and "Parrhesia" from 2010, two easy to recommend albums.
On "Pomegranate", we find him again in the presence of Joe Morris on guitar and Warren Smith on drums and marimba, but with the addition of Ben Stapp on tuba and William Parker on bass. Quite a band!
Like in "Parrhesia", Haynes creates very light textures, with one or two instruments interacting, with precision and attention to the quality of the sound, with attention to little details. The musicians use their instruments also in a very sparse way. No sound is superfluous, no sound is a commodity, but they are all valuable elements in setting up the larger picture, a picture that is profound, both spiritually and emotionally, and a picture that despite its high level of improvisational abstraction is still extremely lyrical. And even when the trio has added bass and tuba to anchor the sound a little bit more, this does not increase the density of the sound, and at times even accentuate its apparent weightlessness.
The album is dedicated to Bill Dixon, Haynes' teacher, mentor and friend for many years.
"Sillage" starts with a deep almost primeval sound of bowed bass, tuba and drums, conjuring up sounds that defy categorisation, non-linear, dissonant, a-rhythmic, yet organically growing towards each other, growling as if something is coming to life.
"Mangui Fii Reek" is based on an African rhythm, solidly anchored by William Parker's bass, joyfully joined by sparse and fresh guitar chords and piercing trumpet tones, supported by rhythmic little percussion by Smith, but all of this in a very soft-spoken way, almost without weight despite the explicit rhythm, flowing forward naturally and gently.
"Pomegranate" is clearly written with Bill Dixon in mind, Haynes' long-time teacher and musical colleague and friend, with trumpet blasts that are short and determined, opening up the music to new possibilities also from the other musicians, leading to free form intensity. Bill Dixon had a certain austerity in his tone, which Stephen Haynes doesn't have.
"Becoming" a long and meandering song, with some trumpet sounds that are reminiscent of Lester Bowie, as is the case on "Crepuscular", which sounds again quiet and African, with William Parker Parker playing a steady vamp, supported by Smith on marimba and the trumpet sounds just marvellous, as is Joe Morris' precise playing.
"Odysseus" is intense, evocating the struggle of the Greek hero tied to the mast of his ship upon his own request so that he can listen to the sirens without risking his life.
Wow, I listened to this album a lot, and I will continue to do so. Its approach is innovative because of its highly open-textured and lightfooted nature, the tight interaction between five musicians who know exactly what do in this specific context, demonstrating the versatility of their skills, yet the real kudos should go to Stephen Haynes himself, not only for his superb playing but for his musical vision, which is all his own - despite the Bill Dixon tribute aspect - and his skill to have the other four musicians on the same wavelength to deliver this vision with such clarity and beauty.