Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble, Live 11/20/99
Boxholder BXH 008/009

Jazz's flirtation with non-Western music has been going on almost since Duke Ellington wrote his first "Jungle" composition. But serious convergence with these sounds really happened when composer/performers such as Yusef Lateef and Art Blakey got to visit Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. Since then whole strains of so-called "ethnic" musics — including Arabic, Greek, Balkan and Yiddish — have been added to the jazz continuum. But few musicians bring the same aesthetic and understanding of these different cultures' sounds as do the members of Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble.

Cole, who is also an educator and author — he's written biographies of John Coltrane and Miles Davis — has been playing non-European horns for about 40 years. And on this fascinating two-CD set he's joined by six other researchers into the interplay between Western instruments and those of the rest of the world. Most of the work, moreover, takes place in the divisions between the notes of the Western tempered scale.

Yet despite — or perhaps because of — the scholastic credentials of some of the musicians involved, this concert-session is no dry academic presentation but a showcase for living music.

For Cole — with a longtime concern for social justice — uses these sounds of the African Diaspora, to illustrate his reflections on Black history. The nearly 49 minute long "Freedom 1863", for instance, is practically program music, using different sounds to describe different figures. Marcus Garvey's Jamaican background is noted with a bongo and conga workout, for instance; Southern civil rights worker Rosa Parks is described with a straight blues from crying alto saxophone walking bass and Arabic double reed; and Harriet Tubman's slavery era struggles are memorialized by flute and primitive banjo.

This mix of First World and Third World Jazz, can result in what sounds like Middle Eastern muezzin tones followed by an out-and-out sanctified passage on "Fanny Lou Hamer", a tune that eerily resembles Mingus' "Better Git It In Your Soul". Yet "Amadou Diallo", written for the unarmed immigrant who was killed by New York City police, presents free tuba, flute and drum sections contrasting with excursions on the giant Tibetan trumpet and matches peaceful homemade harp shimmers with rough-hewn conga drumming.

With each performer conversant with at least one, if not more, modes of non-Western musics, the overall program is as mesmerizing as it is well played. If you want to trace the intersection of world musics without having to appear either condescending or trendy, then this session offers you a kaleidoscopic view of how it should be done.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Struggles of Fannie Lou Hamer 2. The Short Life of Amadou Diallo Disc 2: Freedom 1863: A Fable

Personnel: Bill Cole (digeridoo, sona, Tibetan trumpet, hojok, shenai, nagaswarm, bamboo flute; Sam Furnace (alto soprano saxophone, flute); Joseph Daley (tuba, baritone horn); Cooper-Moore (flute, mouth bow, horizontal hoe-handle harp, rim drums, three-stringed fretless banjo); William Parker (bass); Warren Smith (drums, gongs, marimba, dunno drum, rainsticks); Atticus Cole (congas, bongos, timbales, rain sticks)