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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Darius Jones - fluXkit Vancouver (its suite but sacred) (Northern Spy Records/We Jazz Records, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

One of the most imaginative, dynamic artists, Darius Jones followed his first solo alto album (2021’s Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) ) with, arguably, the most impressive work of his career, thus far. His latest, fluXkit Vancouver ( its suite but sacred), commissioned by the Vancouver-based Western Front and released this fall in a collaborative venture between Northern Spy Records and We Jazz Records, debuts a new musical language, designed by Jones, that features, “extended technique moments to be unique to each individual player.” As with his albums in the Man’ish Boybook of music, the intersection of aural, visual, and physical is foregrounded on fluXkit Vancouver, bringing players and listeners together into a collaborative receiving space, where making the sounds that form the music intersects with experiencing the performance.

The group features a new recording lineup for Jones, with the great Gerald Cleaver on drums, and a nontraditional string quartet with Joshua and Jesse Zubot on violins, Peggy Lee on cello, and James Meger on double bass. Incepted in 2019, fluXkit Vancouver draws directly on Jones’s personal experience with the city. Jones had to restart workshops with the group after cancelling performances in 2020, and that break allowed the music to, in his words, “gestate.” In addition to the 25 visual directions created for this music, the gestation period seems to have provided the players with time to ruminate on all the ways they could perform the music—or, perhaps, in the parlance of a Fluxkit, assemble (as well as disassemble and reassemble) the components contained within.

FluXkit Vancouveropens with a short, invocation from Jones, answered by Cleaver and Meger, who, throughout the album, straddles the roles of rhythm section and string quartet. As conceptually brilliant as the material is, Jones has rarely played with such clarity and depth of feeling. He sounds more exposed than even on Raw Demoon Alchemy, partly because of the way this music relies heavily on his subsequent direction and sublimation to the ensemble. It’s a dazzling performance, with superb leaps and references to traditional jazz, which he plays against occasionally spiky, modernist violin lines. The Zubot brothers, well versed in chamber, symphony, and jazz motifs, play brilliantly together with Lee and Meger, the collective sonic environment is warm, bold, and inviting.

Lyrically circular motifs, like aural curlicues, recur throughout, syntactical guideposts in the hour-long suite. And throughout, Cleaver’s pulsing swing showcasing, as always, his brilliance on the drum kit. Late in the final piece, “Damon and Pythias,” Lee moves forward with a cello line that could have come straight from Charles Ives or William Grant Still, over which Jones solos in the middle-to-lower range of the alto sax. The combination of folk and modern techniques is emphasized by the gradual addition of Meger and the Zubots, with the final minutes harkening back to the opening, a gorgeous and contemplative recessional. This will undoubtedly remain a high water mark for Jones as an emotionally rich, sweeping epic.

Short documentary on the making

Animated score for “Zubot”

Buy direct from Northern Spy Records


Anonymous said...

This is one extraordinary mind-blowing work! Coming after Live in Europe 2022, which I heard for the first time yesterday, I feel musically enraptured and blessed.

Steve Reynolds said...

Imagine listening to Darius from 3 feet away? Solo this past summer and in duo with Nick Fraser a few weeks ago. NO ONE has an alto sound like the *great* Darius Jones.

As great an alto saxophonist as exists in the world. Giants walk this earth.

Lee said...

Agreed, Steve Reynolds, and those two performances sound like they would be amazing!!