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Variable Density Sound Orchestra

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Variable Density Sound Orchestra album cover
Olorun Song
Fragment Alignment
The Red Pyramid
Descent from Orbit
Avant Aria
Calculations at Yaxchilàn
Namthini's Shadow
Album Information

Total Tracks: 10   Total Length: 72:49

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They Say All Music Guide

Garrison Fewell’s development from a linear post-bop stylist to creative improvising innovator comes to fruition on this recording with his Variable Density Sound Orchestra, actually a finely honed sextet or septet. Second guitarist Eric Hofbauer lends supple support for these free inventions or thematic vehicles that allow the other combo members great leeway in tone colors and expressionism liberated from relative time signatures or structured meters. This is Roy Campbell, Jr.’s first collaboration with Fewell, and is a master stroke, as the trumpeter’s lanky lines and poignant tone mesh beautifully with the guitarist’s and Italian alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Achille Succi’s, supported by Fewell’s fellow Bostonians bassist John Voight and drummer Miki Matsuki. Avowed influences link Fewell’s concept with Sun Ra and Anthony Braxton, but there are also clearly defined parallels to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane, or the European free jazzers of the ’70s, as well as ethnic and world music references. That Fewell mixes up stylistic and thematic devices makes the entire recording both intriguing and unpredictable. Short melody fragments, long tones, counterpoint, and controlled spatial cracks identify the well-titled “Spectronomous,” “Fragment Alliance” separates the sextet into two independent trios with Succi’s twitchy bass clarinet facing off against the guitars, while “Ayleristic,” for Albert Ayler, is a free floating piece with soaring horns hardening and dense toward the finish. Campbell’s yearning Don Cherry-cum-Lester Bowie trumpet plays opposite to Voight’s probing, Malachi Favors-type bass during the free and easy “Olorun Song,” while a muted horn evokes desert caravan images on an after-hours mystery train ride for the outstanding “The Red Pyramid,” where Succi’s alto sax is eventually unveiled at midnight. A bluesy “Descent from Orbit” is a special reprieve of curiosity with the sawing guitars contrasting Campbell’s crying brass, while bird chirps from Campbell’s flute underpin extended ritual patterns during the instrumental, chant-like “Calculations at Yaxchilan.” Campbell joins in on the slide guitar during the dark beat composition of Butch Morris’ “Namthini’s Shadow,” sporting a modal idea similar to Ornette Coleman or Old and New Dreams. At times, it’s clear Fewell and Hofbauer have heard their share of Sonny Greenwich and James “Blood” Ulmer, as their phrasing borrows from both, but they retain a role playing persona, letting Campbell and Succi adopt the meatier melody lines. This is as intriguing a project as has been available on the contemporary jazz scene, and comes highly recommended. It’s chock-full of inventive musicianship, truly new concepts, and fresh approaches that pay big dividends. What is even more evident is that Fewell and friends pay sincere and serious homage to the tradition of their elders, yet consistently pave new streams of consciousness to go wherever they freely feel like traversing. – Michael G. Nastos

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