March 5, 2001
SATURNALIA STRING TRIO + DANIEL CARTER
Meditations on Unity
Sublingual Records SLR005
Ever since the days of BIRD WITH STRINGS, improvising jazzmen have had the compulsion to record fronting a multitude of violins and celli caressing a collection of standards. From Clifford Brown and Paul Desmond down to the likes of Terence Blanchard, these sessions have usually just skirted mood music and produced many musicians' least consequential playing.
Multi-hornman Daniel Carter isn't that type of player, the three members of Saturnalia aren't going to be mistaken for a "string section" and this CD has the same relationship to those sugarcoated sessions as the Catskills do to the Himalayas.
A selfless soloist who is also a member of two collective New York-based ensembles — TEST and Other Dimensions In Music — Carter's idea is to integrate his sounds into musical gestalt created by the Boston-based string trio. He succeeds to such an extent that there are times when you're not sure whether a particular passage originated from brass, woodwind or strings. Carter frequently jumps from instrument to instrument, sometimes in the course of one tune. At other times, as on "Aspirations", for instance, only a small repeated reed motif makes it clear that he's present at all.
With the selections mostly unrolling at mid tempo, you also get a chance to appreciate the subtle interaction of the string trio, which has the floor to itself on four shorter tracks. Rhythmically powerful, Bullock floats many a composition with a strong woody-sounding propulsion, while LaMaster and Rawlings work on insistent discordant ostinato and lightning quick pizzicato passages, when they're not shadowing Carter's solo work. "Juggernaut" and "Visions of Unity" — the longest tracks at almost 18 and more than 13 minutes respectively — offer the clearest example of this teamwork. At times, on the first, Carter's jagged, alto saxophone lines soar over ever ascending string passages, while the bass keeps a steady beat. On other occasions he plays hide and seek with the scratching arco strings, sneaking in and out of the soundpicture with an alternately smooth and piercing tone. Then there are the milliseconds when LaMaster's wire strands come into congruence with Carter's reed eruptions and quickly move away. Unlike ejaculatory tension release devices which composers like Charles Mingus used to great effect on "Better Get It In Your Soul" and other tunes, Carter and the Saturnalia Three prefer to let pieces slowly dribble down into silence. A variation on this strategy appears when second bassist Heyner makes the band a quintet on "Visions of Unity". While the top parts don't alter substantially, the stroked subterranean accompaniment sometimes suggests the double bass parts on John Coltrane's "Olé", with Carter versatile enough to take the tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute and trumpet parts.
In short, this disc certainly isn't the expected "with strings" session. It's something much more adventurous and distinct.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. What Kind of Jazz 2. 3 for One 3. Aspirations 4. Repose 5. Spontaneous Contagion 6. Reverie 7. Ekstasis 8. 3 for Two 9. Release 10. 3 for All 11. Juggernaut 12. Visions of Unity
Personnel: Daniel Carter (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, flute, trumpet) [except tracks 1, 2, 10]; Jonathan LaMaster (violin, electronics); Vic Rawlings (prepared cello, serangi, electronics); Mike Bullock (bass) [except track 11]; Matthew Heyner (bass) [tracks 11, 12]