DANIEL CARTER/SHANIR EZRA BLUMENKRANZ/KEVIN ZUBEK

Chinatown
NotTwo MW 753-2

Native Chinese have no need of Chinatowns; they’re only necessary for Chinese in foreign lands. So any band naming its CD after that unique urban area must come to terms with exile, rapprochement and social mobility

By the same token each of the musicians featured here brings his background to bear on the 11 tracks on this session. Although all three are American, the strands of sound that they intermingle are removed enough for homogenized popular music that the endproduct needs a separate forum, like the unaffected area around New York’s Chinatown, in which to flourish.

The band’s two younger members, string player Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and percussionist Kevin Zubek bring Hebraic, Middle Eastern and world-rock sensibilities to the mix, having performed with such Jewish-inflected experimental units as The Lemon Juice Quartet and the trio Satlah. Blumenkranz, who plays bass and oud here, has, in the past, backed up such experimental reedists as Sabir Mateen, Anthony Braxton and Sonny Simmons, so finding common ground with the group’s veteran soloist is no stretch. One of Free Jazz’s most accomplished players, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter has spent nearly 30 years trading ideas with the cream of outside players from all over, including trumpeter Roy Campbell, bassists Peter Kowald and William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake.

Using all the colors available from Zubek’s drums and percussion and Blumenkranz’s stringed instruments, the two mesh easily with lead lines ejaculating from Carter’s alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, flute and clarinet. Together they make a powerful statement and if they aren’t yet as together as some of Carter’s other groups such as Other Dimensions In Music, it isn’t for lack of trying new things. As a matter of fact, the CD’s only real weakness is its number of tracks. Fewer, longer numbers may have been a better strategy.

At almost eight minutes, for instance, “Guo Zhi Han” gives the three enough space in which to show off how Zubek’s pumped up cymbal evocations meld with Blumenkranz’s thumping pizzicato line and Carter’s chesty tenor saxophone tones. It also provides a showcase for the bassist to sound out some wiggling arco slurs, as Blumenkranz strums and finger picks his bull fiddle as if it was a large guitar. Earlier, his ponticello vibrations almost move his output into violin territory and cause Carter to mirror that sound with his split tone screeches.

On the 12-minute-and-change first track, “Hak Zhou”, Carter’s shows off not only his swaying, triple tonguing Trane-like alto work, but also his clarinet tones which, squeak, sneak and circle around the theme before introducing reed kisses. The percussionist contributes sounds that could come from a bata drum and unselected cymbals, while the bassist applies enough torque to his strings to multi stop before moving into legato plucks to hold everything together.

Legit ethnic sounds make their appearance on “Sun Dou” and “Sun Mei”, as Blumenkranz, who studied music in Israel as well as the U.S. displays his oud prowess. Plucking away on the five pairs of strings with a guitarist’s facility, on the first, he builds to a crescendo of smeared fingering, which is soon matched by a breathy, tender tone from the tenor sax. When Carter begins double tonguing a snaking timbre that resembles an ancient Middle Eastern flute, Blumenkranz picks away emphasizing — no surprise — the drone from the oud’s lowest and thickest string known as the bamteli.

Somehow Carter adapts the texture of a cross-blown Arabic flute to the second piece, with the oudist pecking a definitely non-Western melody. Zubek’s isolated cymbal thwacks and wooden nerve beats add to the atmosphere and help amplify Blumenkranz’s string snaps and slurred fingering.

As for the other tunes, they certainly allow the three to exhibits all sorts of Free Music extended techniques. These include bluesy, clarion-calls, multiphonic lines, muted Milesean trumpet licks, speaking-in-tongues screeches and simultaneously blowing and mumbling through his mouthpiece from Carter. Then there’s Zubek lashing his cymbals, bouncing and rebounding his snares and toms, exercises his claves and ringing his cowbell as if he was a ranch cook. Meanwhile, Blumenkranz displays expansive, dense bowed licks, screeching supple tremolo ponticello lines and even a tincture of Classic Jazz slap bass.

On the evidence here, the trio members have made CHINATOWN a place you’d like to visit.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hak Zhou 2. Tai Hong Lau 3. Sun Dou 4. Zhong Guo 5. Xiao Zhi An 6. Shun Da 7. Jing Jing Lok 8. Sun Mei 9. Xian Shi 10. Teng Fei 11. Guo Zhi Han

Personnel: Daniel Carter (alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, flute, clarinet); Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass and oud); Kevin Zubek (drums and percussion)