Secrets of When
Bleu Regard CT 1961

One of the linchpins of Manhattan’s ecstatic jazz scene, multi-reedman Sabir Mateen is probably best known for his membership in the Lower East Side collective quartet TEST. But spend any time in New York and you’re likely to come across him playing in all manner of established and pick-up groups with youthful or veteran colleagues, everywhere from the Knitting Factory to subway stations.

Philadelphia-born, and now in his fifties, Mateen has never shied away from a musical challenge, having spent years on the West Coast, in pianist Horace Tapscott’s bands, before arriving in New York in 1989 on the advise of fellow Philadelphian, legendary drummer Sunny Murray, with whom he has recorded.

This CD is particularly important because the reedman wrote and arranged all of the tunes here and performs them with a hand picked ensemble. More than any other medium it gives as a complete aural picture of Mateen as you’ll ever hear.

Democratic as he is in his other playing situations, the quintet is comprised of experienced and younger musicians. Trumpeter Raphe Malik’s late 1970s-early 1980s tenure with Cecil Taylor is always cited, but he also has had fruitful associations with Mateen, Boston bassist Larry Roland and the late Bay area tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman. Young percussionist Ravish Momin has worked in a trio with imaginative pianist Dan DeChellis, former pianist Jane Wang was taught bass by Cecil McBee, while pianist Naoko Ono is a consistent Mateen collaborator with roots in Impressionistic European music.

Basic sonic strands coalesce in the title tune, which takes on many guises. Beginning as an axiomatic free jazz blow out, with altissimo tenor saxophone licks and stratospheric trumpet shards flying, it soon turns into the sort of ballad you’d expect from the Lower East Side: tender and meandering, but tough as well. Finally a cascade of notes announce Ono’s Debussy-style keyboard clusters.

Something similar — but diametric — happens with “Shattered Chamber”, which Mateen sees as a blend that allow jazz musicians to get in touch with their roots. During its nearly 17 plus minutes the composition evolves from a beginning of romantic cello lines, gentle piano ripples and bucolic chalumeau clarinet tones to a rip-roaring outside improv attack, with Mateen screeching out his thoughts in intricate, flinty horn multiphonics.

“SouthEast Winds at 12”, despite a title that appears to be a New York weather forecast, is instead a fairly successful blend of Eastern and Western instrumentation. Underpinned by a reverberating tabla beat, each individual instrument enters, makes its statement and recedes into the background. Matten’s first solo is taken on a conventional-sounding, high-toned flute, with that timbre soon succeeded by some right handed piano tinkles, the steady undertow of the bass beat and ethereal trumpet lines, until Tomin switches to talking drum rhythms. Re-entering on bass clarinet, the reedman speedily leaps from one part of the instrument to the other, scooping a low note out here and shrilly showcasing a high one there, occasionally matched by the intermittent trumpet asides. Finally the ensemble revs up into extensive cacophony, guided by Mateen’s horn overblowing and steadily repeated, two-fisted piano figures from Ono.

Those who already know Mateen’s work will welcome this fully mature example of his art. Those who don’t will find this CD a monumental introduction to his talents.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Shattered Chamber 2. Our Community 3. Secrets of When 4. Inner Conversations 5. SouthEast Winds at 12 6. Prayers

Personnel: Raphe Malik (trumpet, voice); Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and alto clarinet, flute, voice); Naoko Ono (piano, voice); Jane Wang (bass, cello, voice); Ravish Momin (drums, percussion, tablas, talking drums, voice)