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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Mark Segger Sextet - Lift Off (18th Note Records, 2020) ****½

By Sammy Stein

The Mark Segger Sextet was formed in 2008 to play the music of drummer and leader Mark Segger. Currently a doctoral Killam scholar in composition at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, Mark Segger has performed with the likes of Allison Au, Lina Allemano, Jane Bunnett, Dave Burrell, Steve Swell, and Nate Wooley, among others. The title, Lift Off is inspired by the sense of weightless and release when a plane’s wheels leave the tarmac; the out of body experience felt in a concert at the moment when time slows to a halt, transporting the listener to another dimension or a performer when they feel as if they’re in the audience, watching themselves improvise on stage. These are experiences simultaneously otherworldly yet familiar. Lift Off includes a diverse stylistic palette of compositions and the delivery is varied, ranging from the sophisticated to the gloriously dislocated.

The title track which opens the CD, is fast, furious and eclectic with improvised trumpet, over demonic drums and piano meanderings, whilst reed specialist Peter Lutek imposes some creative additions on tenor. The trumpet solo which rises from the mayhem is luscious, rich, and the back-up from the sextet is strong and fluid. The drum acts as a conduit over which the trumpet line morphs to that for the tenor which rises, inserting creative innovative diversions over the top. You can almost feel the wheels leave solid ground and the stuttering of the engines - and your heart. A wonderful track to open the album.

'Cluttertone News' opens like it is going to be big band harmonious and rather cool but it develops into something of slow but controlled mayhem - in a manner which is both engaging and somehow wonderfully calming. The bass warphs and whoos, offering up little trickles of slurred notes, plucked sections and bowed lines, whilst under this, the ensemble creatively diverge. A gentler episode follows and the ear is taken again by the sonorous, flexing bass lines, the strings sawn raw towards the end. Interesting. Incidentally 'Cluttertones' were one of bass player Mark Clutton's bands.

'For The Bees' sounds like a slightly disparate New Orleans march initially, but after a few bars the resemblance is more akin to 3 different melodic lines pitched just off the harmonics for just long enough to hold the interest without jarring; a nod to the 1960s British Free jazz movement of 'insect music' with nuances of Bela Bartok. A bass solo over percussion is followed in quick succession by piano over the ensemble with the trumpet subtly plinking lines into the ether in the background. The sense of improvisation here is lovely, with the trumpet buzzing along - appropriately given the title - yet, though apparently structureless there is a sense of the ensemble knowing exactly where they are aiming for and this is precisely where they end up. Crazy musical shapes drift in and out and the track is a complete stand out.

'18' is contrasting; a bass-led section introduces the number over drums before the rest support. This of the same disharmonic structure as 'For The Bees' without quite the same resonance but a listenable track nonetheless. The real craziness is in the second half and this is where the beauty is found, especially on the second or third listen. Track number 5 is called '.......' which might seem odd but fits because this is an assembly of staccato chords and, single, occasionally held notes delivered separately in the main and feels like a complete break. 'One Note' follows and initially sounds like a tuning session before it develops into a rhythm piece, the interest of which is in the way you forget the music (it is one note after all) and concentrate on the listening to each instrument. There are perhaps influences of Grygory Ligeti's 'Musica Ricercata' but I am not sure this, like Ligeti's music would hold the attention for much more than the five and a quarter minutes it is long.

'Slow Motion' is an intriguing blend of ensemble work interrupted by random blasts of ferocity from the horns (after 7,6,2,1 and then another 12 bars) and then at further random points. The blasts have no pattern but the underlying rhythmic 4/4 is relentless across the number, adding a control, out of which the trumpet rises like some fiendishly charged entity. Unusual time contrasts and a track which is different, intriguing and emphatically full of character.

'Bassline' features a loud, huge struck bass entry over which sax and trumpet fly, dip and soar before the ensemble come as one, creating a track which features everyone, over what is an interesting and fast paced bass line. Communication on this track is tangible as each instrument comes forward and receded, offering up solo lines and support in equal measure.

This album was a revelation. This sextet show uncompromising musicality in their delivery. Each musician carries their weight in the group, offering up phrases whose variety and variation serve to sculpture and mould each piece, creating a unique section of the album, yet maintaining the essence of the sextet working together. An album to listen to, engage, immerse in.


Jim Lewis - Trumpet
Heather Saumer - Trombone
Peter Lutek - Tenor Saxophone & Clarinet
Tania Gill - Piano & Melodica
Rob Clutton - Bass
Mark Segger - Drums