As you may have noticed, I am not a fan of vocal jazz (with some exceptions), and frankly speaking I am not too often impressed by flute-playing in a jazz environment (I just don't like the sound of it), nor am I too much in favor of post-editing, mixing and electronics. But then you get this album : with Pamela Z on vocals and electronics and Holly Hofmann on flutes. You put it on out of curiosity, and what you get is a different musical world than the one you know. Add Oliver Lake on sax, George Lewis on trombone, Mike Wofford on piano, Lisle Ellis on bass and electronics and Susie Ibarra on drums and percussion. Also, forget your knowledge of Lisle Ellis's former CDs with the likes of Joe McPhee, Marco Eneidi or Larry Ochs. Ellis manages to create his own musical world here, based on the example of - and in homage to - graffitti poet and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The title from the album goes back to one of Basquiat's graffitti lines "Jimmy Best on his back to the sucker punch of his childhood files". Ellis describes in the liner notes how he uses Basquiat's painting technique to create the music : to use the simplest possible structure as a starting point, namely the traditional six part Mass Of The Dead of the Roman Catholic Church, then start making layers and layers of music over the theme, much like paint on a canvas, and then start removing parts of layers to uncover what lays below "to expose sonic images and overlapping musical shapes". When you read that, you may also think of the worst kind of hermetically closed avant-garde music. But again that's not what you get. The album consists of 16 tracks of relatively accessible musical explorations, with the electronics in a functional and serving role, and with relatively sparse instrumentation. The compositions are abstract, but full of emotions. The Roman Catholic Church may have offered the structure, but that's about all. The themes are jazz, and so are the rhythms. Some tracks are outright mainstream, such as the long "Suicide Study", with great walking bass, gentle piano playing and subtle drumming. Other tracks (luckily the shorter ones, all called "Perishables") use electronics and some hard to identify distorted instruments. The overall effect is excellent. It is bizarre at times, but always recognizable, in a way that you can relate to what is being played, while you can still be surprised at how it's brought. And the musicianship is truly great, with special mention for Lake and Ibarra : every note Lake plays is full of emotion, and with a broad range, Ibarra's drumming is very creative and unexpected at times, but always full of ideas and effect. It will not be to everyone's taste because of its novel approach and abstract, sometimes cerebral compositions, but its emotional value will become clearer with each listen.
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