It's A Brand New Day
Knitting Factory KFW-271

Tom Cora's death, at 44 in 1998, not only robbed music of one of its few improvising cellists, but also of one versatile enough to move seamlessly between jazz, rock, improv and something resembling "ethnic" music. But, after all, what would you expect from a musician whose playing partners including everyone from guitarists Eugene Chadbourne and Fred Frith to composer/saxophonist John Zorn and singer Catherine Jauniaux?

This memorial CD, made up of performances recorded at the New York's Knitting Factory between 1989 and 1996, highlights his versatility. And that's its strength as well as its weakness.

For a start, all the performances were recorded with a single audience mike and the sound ranges from good though distant, to echoey and loggy. The main victim is Jauniaux, Cora's widow, whose voice seems to come from somewhere just beyond ear comfort. Also, with French lyrics and tunes that appear to relate more to the folk tradition than out-and-out improv, Cora is reduced to one musician among many on those tracks.

Much better are pieces like "Andy's Fault" with the pseudo-Klezmer-style clarinet of Don Byron bouncing off against rock-style drumming, with Cora coming out with slashing guitar-like runs, and "Saint Dog", featuring trumpeter Dave Douglas. On the later, Cora gets a meditative solo section to himself, which them bleeds back into the bouncy jig-like main melody enlivened by some high register soloing from Douglas.

The extent of Cora's talents comes to the fore on other tracks though. A screeching rock-style trio outing with George Cartwright's Prime Time-like alto sax and Samm Bennett's relentless drumming, features the cellist ricocheting heavy-metal projectiles. Then there's "Elia's Hubcaps", the longest track on the disc, a duet with Frith, which allows both string players to alternately improvise and take turns as string "percussionist". "Les Instants Chavirés" may be the crowning achievement here with both the cellist — in his classical guitar mode — and pianist Wayne Horvitz using the colors available with electronics to augment their improvisations.

Like the CDs of many other musicians, IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY shows a few lows and the some highs of Cora's career. However, it's too bad there won't be (m)any more documents of his work against which to compare it.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Passing 2. High Sidewalk 3. Andy's Fault 4. Les Instants Chavirés 5. Saint Dog 6. Elia's Hubcaps 7. Ce Grand Neant 8. Hey, My Mosey Mose

Personnel: Tom Cora (cello, electronics) with different combinations of Dave Douglas (trumpet); Don Byron (clarinet); George Cartwright (alto saxophone) Fred Frith (guitar); Wayne Horvitz (piano, electronics); Zeena Parkins (piano); Hahn Rowe (violin or viola); Mark Dresser or Ann Rupel (bass); Samm Bennett or Pippin Barnett (drums); Catherine Jauniaux (vocals)