February 8, 2000
This is an album designed to drive more traditional jazz fans crazy.
For despite the fact that the trio that makes up Equal Interest manages to use few "accepted" jazz instruments and plays all original compositions, it has still constructed a powerful musical statement that's as overwhelming as any bristling tenor'n'trumpet hard bop recreation.
The three musicians are Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins and Myra Melford. And the instruments of choice include a Turkish hand drum, a Vietnamese oboe, wind chimes, a viola and a harmonium. "Harmonium?" voices echo. "How can decent jazz be created on one of those hippy-dippy reed organs?
Well it just depends whose fingers are wrapped around those unconventional instruments. Former Chicagoans all, the members of Equal Interest are explorers committed to expanding jazz's textures. Flutist/saxophonist Jarman, a founding and longtime member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago has pursued a solo career in the 1990s. Jenkins is improvised music's preeminent violin stylist, who easily moves back and forth from improvised to composed music or from gutbucket to fine porcelain, if you prefer. And pianist Melford, the youngest Equal, has proved her credentials with a various hard-hitting trios and quintets.
Now take Melford's "The Beauty We Love", for instance. Despite being built on a bed of reed organ tones, the intertwined alto sax and violin sequences tease the melody along so well that you hardly miss the so-called swing in its movement. Additionally, Jarman's "Rondo For Jenny" may be expressed on the oboe, but the reedman's tone on it suggest nothing so much as the frenetic buzz of a bagpipe, which joined the jazz world in the hands of England's Paul Dunmall, Philly's Rufus Harley and, of course, Albert Ayler.
"Over This/Living Music", is alive with some impressive, bluesy piano playing plus a brawny, vocalized flute solo that calls forth the spirit of the late Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And Jenkins' own "In the Moment" is just that, an extended violin tour-de-force that shows exactly what results when you mix the Eurocentric composed and freer improvised traditions. In short, unless your soul is mortgaged to Art Blakey or Benny Goodman, you'll find much to like here.
EQUAL INTEREST isn't an unqualified success, however. Most notably on Jarman's overlong "Poem Song", the result is so hushed and precious that you feel as if you're eavesdropping on an Asian court music recital rather than a program of forthright improvised music.
All and all, though Equal Interest (the band) succeeds admirably at what it sets out to do. And many open-eared listeners will be happy to sample the results.
Track Listing: 1.B'Pale Night 2. Rondo for Jenny 3. Over This/Living Music 4. Poem Song 5.In the Moment 6. The Beauty We Love 7. Everything Today 8. Apricots from Eden (Sourmaloui Jerk)
Personnel: Joseph Jarman (flute, alto saxophone, Turkish hand drum, Vietnamese oboe, wind chimes); Leroy Jenkins (violin, viola); Myra Melford (piano, harmonium)