A Symphony of Cities
Southport/Asian Improv S-SSD 0096

AEC and AI provides the cross cultural unpinning of this rhythmically sophisticated and lengthy — almost 72 minute — CD.

To spell it out, percussionist Famoudou Don Moye, best-known for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, is a longtime member of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which has always promoted an African-American view of jazz. Meanwhile bassist Tatsu Aoki, his partner here, is an organizing force within the national Asian Improv movement that identifies Asian-American contributions to the music.

Most of the disc is made up of Moye and Aoki playing off one another with a variety of percussion instruments. On two tracks though, it also defines the title by adding another AACM stalwart — whistler and flutist Joel Brandon — who has lived both in Los Angles and the Windy City and tenor saxophonist Francis Wong, a native of China who now lives in the Bay area, who is another AIer. With that duo adding their talents to those of Moye, a Rochester, N.Y. native turned Chicagoan, and Aoki, who moved from Tokyo to Chicago years ago, A SYMPHONY OF CITIES is created.

Population centres are honored all right, but obviously neither a duo nor a quartet can produce the sort of big band sound that some of Aoki’s multi-musician Miyumi projects or expanded AEC sessions with Moye have. Instead, what this is, is an exercise in rhythmic business.

One way it’s shown is on Moye’s “Ode to Wilbur Ware” honoring the late Chicago bassist, most notable for his work with Thelonious Monk. A powerful timekeeper, his strength and precision are replicated not only by Aoki’s bull fiddle, but also in the deep tones of Moye’s bass mbira.

Given a cross-cultural boost from the drummer’s Afro-Cuban conga work, and some connective Caribbean musical tissue from Wong’s tenor, the main theme, conveyed in bright tonal flights by Brandon’s flute, is surprisingly straightahead. But Ware, after all would have most comfortable with that, since his home town gigs were backing up the likes of tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. On the tune, as Aoki works his way down the scale, Brandon seems to be whistling into the wind, creating double-timed, echoing rubato passages that are finally succeeded by a scatted vocal chorus and more dark-toned bass work.

More outside, “TokyoMad Total Efficiency” finds the reed-biting saxist a bit under-recorded as the two horn men go off on tangents, alternately echoing and hardening each other’s tones. Soon, Brandon’s circular flute solo begins to develop multiphonic lines as Aoki sticks to straight time and Moye emphasizes his cymbals and cowbell. Finally the flute air intertwines with lengthening saxophone lines leading everyone to an adagio finish.

The three bass-drum duets are actually less bare bone than that since Aoki brings along his taiko drum and bells to use at appropriate occasions. These are add-ons, not distractions, since the bassist can also call upon semi-slap qualities that date back to Wellman Braud or use powerful Jimmy Garrison-like decorations if need be. Moye often is in perpetual motion as well — making percussion forays to different, isolated parts of his kit like a European explorer plundering the riches of different, exotic indigenous groups. Creating a solo rhythm by himself he can conjure up a beat as easily from the wiggling of claves as from a relay race of cymbals and hi-hat.

Longest — at slightly more then 24 minutes — track is “Afro American Reflections”, which, true to the CD’s theme, tries to meld into one sounds from both the Black and Yellow Diaspora. Moye reverberates his Indonesian gongs, Aoki sounds his taiko drums and also uses the resonant quality of his bass for percussion effects. Higher pitched and arco, his axe can sound like a clarinet or flute, while Moye’s tempered cymbals sometimes take on the timbres of newly forged steel drums.

Not that any particular tone is racially or geographically positioned though. Aoki’s double stopping is often impressionistically classical, while Moye’s snapping beats can replicate flamenco heeltaps or build up to a percussion suggestion of the “William Tell Overture”. Repeated roughs, drags and rolls combine for the crescendo when both men seems to be giving their all.

More than a rhythm section (and guests), the CD proves that an admixture of seemingly contrasting sounds can produce memorable moments. That is as long as a common conviction is expressed by the multi-tasking hands.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Afro Asian Reflections 2. Promise 3. Ode to Wilbur Ware* 4. TokyoMad Total Efficiency* 5. Soba Soba

Personnel: Francis Wong (tenor saxophone*); Joel Brandon (flute, whistling*); Tatsu Aoki (bass, taiko drum, bells); Famoudou Don Moye (drums, hand and stick percussion, Indonesian gongs, calabashes, tuned Indian bells, wood and metallic sections, bass mbira)