Circumvention 040

DESTINATIONS is an apt title for this session of compositions and improvisations by drummer Gustavo Aguilar’s collective quintet. But the targets for these organic creations seem to range farther geographically than the booklet notes realize.

Much is made of how the CD unites improv musicians from both Southern and Northern California. But throughout the seven compositions which feature Chris Garcia on udu and tabla plus Eric Crystal on flax and melodica plus saxophones, the connection appears to be between variations of Oriental and Occidental sounds.

An academic as well as a player, San Diego-based Aguilar has performed in such far-flung areas as South Korea, Japan, Croatia and Romania as well as improvising with the likes of reedists Anthony Braxton and Vinny Golia. Tenor saxophonist Robert Reigle, who like Garcia is from Los Angles, is also an ethnomusicologist, while Bay area jazzers saxophonist Eric Crystal and bassist Todd Sickafoose have performed with other genre-jumpers like guitarist Nels Cline and saxist John Zorn.

East-West rapprochement is most obvious on “Concepts in Travel Comfort”, at more than 13½ minutes, the longest tune on this less than 44 minute CD. It’s built around the distinctive resonating tone of the connected North Indian tabla drums that begins and ends the piece. But the percussive imput doesn’t end there. As Garcia finesses Hindustani-oriented beats from his dayan and bayan, Aguilar weighs in with Western rhythms from snares and bent cymbal tones. Interestingly enough, considering their respective backgrounds, Crystal’s stairstep asides on reedy melodica and trilling flute-like flax add more exotica to the piece than Reigle’s Westernized tenor tone interrupted for a section of snorts and tongue slaps. Putting aside the straightforward rhythmic function he shows on other pieces, Sickafoose’s strings buzz as if he was playing a one- string berimbau.

“Along the Red Lines” also benefits from the deep air resonance produced by Garcia from his side-holed clay pot drum, which are amplified by Aguilar’s regular kit sounds and some repeated wind tunnel-like whistles and squeals from the horns. Then there’s “Legends”, whose high-pitched melody line moves from reedy unison to a double time, swinging pulse that highlights alto sax slurs and tenor saxophone honks.

These tunes and the others are all of a piece. Although every one operates at a high level of competence, no one soloist stands out — perhaps that’s the function of a collective — and not one makes enough of an impression to be called distinctive. Sometimes the reed lines may be sibilant and often the percussion input relies on offbeats, but most of the time the low intensity of the tunes is deadening.

Aguilar and company have proven that they can make ethnic musical mixtures their destinations. But next time out more liveliness and color would add to the trip’s experience.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Different Paths, Same Destination 2. Legends 3. Along the Red Lines 4.

N-6 5. Transit Visa 6. Concepts in Travel Comfort 7. Box the Compass (Song for John)

Personnel: Eric Crystal (soprano and alto saxophones, flax, melodica); Robert Reigle (tenor saxophone); Todd Sickafoose (bass); Gustavo Aguilar (drums, sounds); Chris Garcia (udu, tabla)