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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sonic Openings Under Pressure - Muhheankuntuk (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

In truth, I wasn't too thrilled with Patrick Brennan's two previous efforts "The Drum Is Honor Enough" and "Rapt Circle". Yet this one is different. Apart from Brennan on sax, Hillard Green's bass is the only constant with the previous albums. David Pleasant plays drums and harmonica on this CD. And the music is totally different too. The more limited line-up has opened the music quite a lot, and the three musicians weave some sensitive and creative textures. You have the feeling that anything could happen on this album, and it does. The music is often tentative, timid even, creating soft but intense interplay, with the exception of "Hardships", which is an uptempo high enery great anger vocal rap/spoken word piece. But indeed all the other pieces are free form open improvizations around agreed themes and structures, played with a musical delicacy and precise elegance that demonstrates once again that free jazz can be so much more than noisy blowing contests, and truth be told, even more subtle, nuanced and emotionally authentic than the large majority of more mainstream releases. The music itself is built around themes, that appear and then disappear again, depending on the mood of the musicians, like waves on a river. And that is what the title means "river that flows in two directions", in the local native American language, referring to the Hudson's typical tide currents. On "Flash Of The Spirit", Pleasant switches to harmonica, which makes for an unheard of combination, but it works, and it works well. In "The Terrible" Brennan's sax speaks in short bursts, words and phrases over a very varied rhythmic creation by Pleasant and Greene. The last piece, which I find the highlight of the album, starts with a weeping duo of sax and bass, moving into a lightly funky form, then almost organically shifting to a higher gear free bop, and the fun thing is that despite the ever increasing power play of the rhythm section, Brendan keeps his cool and his soft angle, right until the very end, when he does explode, only to come to a sudden halt for a final blow, literally. Open and intense music by three stellar musicians. There is much to enjoy here.