May 24, 2001
Knitting Factory Records KFW 284
Jazz has always evolved by adapting new sounds for its own purposes. Recently, as well, these sounds have moved beyond the African-American and European traditions to take in more of the world. Part of this transition, GONGOL is an intriguing disc because these borrowing are both transparent yet fitting.
Subtitled Ori Kaplan's Percussion Ensemble, the members of the band are all young veterans of New York's experimental gestalt. Israeli-born saxophonist Kaplan has earned kudos performing in the Little Huey Orchestra, as part of the Jump Arts coalition and in his own trio, which includes percussionist Geoff Mann. Drummer Susie Ibarra has exploited her Philipino heritage in such bands as In Order To Survive and David S. Ware's as well on as her own recording. Pianist Andrew Bemkey has worked with Reggie Workman.
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this session is how non-exotic most of the music seems. Although the two percussionists are apt to bring out such imported noise makers as the djun-djun, kulintang, gongs, djembe and bellafon, the overriding idea is to integrate them into a jazz context. Only on atmospheric leitmotifs like the title track and other short pieces do the foreign percussion appear more prominent.
Blow Daddy", on the other hand, may initially feature the djembe, but the rooted, repetitive head is no more alien than any riff funky saxophonist Hank Crawford plays. Kaplan's slap tonguing and multiphonics may show his reed command, but that interlude doesn't stop the tune from smartly moving along.
Elsewhere, a kulintang's bell-like tinkling makes its appearance on "Dark Sun". But when you weigh its contribution against a traditional drum solo, rolling piano chords and a staccato saxophone double-timing, the end result merely sounds as if a vibes player had made the California quartet gigs recorded by pianist Horace Tapscott and reedist John Carter.
Consistency in vision also enables the band to utilize the unfamiliar sounds — for jazz —of a mandolin, played by Mann on his own "Prayer for Ramon". Another low-key number, the saxophonist matches the strings' high, lonesome sound with long-limbed flute-like musings of his own.
More to the point, a tune like the slinky, unfussy "Shadow" is impressive enough for its unison sax and piano lines and rhythm flow. With its hummable melody the fact that the rhythm is being made by a djun-djun as well as a regular drum kit hardly affects the equation.
About as exotic as apple pie, GONGOL simply reflects the real contemporary 21st Century jazz. And it's memorable for that reason above all.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Crisis Dream 2. Anticipate 3. Slow Boat 4. Blow Daddy 5. Sky Drops 6. Dark Sun 7. Prayer for Ramon 8. Gongol 9. Shadow 10. Balasax
Personnel: Ori Kaplan (alto saxophone); Andrew Bemkey (piano); Geoff Mann (drums, percussion, djun-djun, mandolin); Susie Ibarra (drums, tympani, djembe, kulintang, gongs, bellafon, percussion)