Cosmosamatics Three
Boxholder BXH 041

Ayler AYL006-CD

A versatile, but unappreciated multi-reedman, New York-based Michael Marcus proves that he can hold his own alongside Free Jazz legends on these CDs.

Not only that, but a comparison of the two discs — one recorded in 1993 and the other in 2002 and 2003 — shows a remarkable consistency in his approach to improvisations. THREE is probably the more challenging, since Marcus, who is part of Saxemble as well as leading his own groups, shares the front line of the Cosmosamatics with Sonny Simmons.

Simmons, a first generation New Thinger, who recorded with Eric Dolphy and for ESP Disk in the 1960s, is a formidable improvising partner. It’s probably a compliment to Marcus that often his saxello lines and Simmons’ alto sax output are very similar to one another. The older man also plays English horn and the younger baritone saxophone. The two challenge themselves even more on this, the Cosmosamatics’ third CD, since the only accompanist is drummer Jay Rosen, though his inventiveness takes up most of the slack.

ITHEM, on the other hand, features a standard rhythm section — but what a rhythm section it is. Drummer Denis Charles was the drummer with whom Cecil Taylor’s first recorded, and continued playing with musicians on the cutting edge until his death in 1998. Bassist William Parker was one of those improvisers. On his own, the bull fiddler has probably led, organized and/or played on more outside jazz gigs than anyone during the past 15 years.

So how does Marcus fare here? Excellently, as a matter of fact. Although the live sound is a little rougher on ITHEM than on THREE, he, Parker and Charles more than make up for that with creative resourcefulness.

On the first few measures of “Under the Wire”, for instance, with Parker bowing ponticello and Charles sealing the drama with an undercurrent of whirls, Marcus produces pitch vibrations that could come from a bagpipe, even though he’s only listed as playing alto saxophone and bass clarinet. As the bassman languidly voluminously expands his tones, the reedist double-tongues and squeals out harsh palpitations at a quicker tempo. Finally, Marcus’ wavering full vibrato connects with Parker’s arco output for a conclusion that resembles an idyllic tone poem.

This mood is extended on “Secret Oceans”. But three minutes into the piece the balladic line is transformed into a freebop romp with a walking bass, plus Dolphy-like flutter tongued echoes from Marcus. Arched free-flowing reed arpeggios eventually give way to steady rebounds and rim shots on Charles’ part, with the beat kept steady all the way to the thematic reprise.

All three players provide a healthy dose of avant-garde martial music on the two takes of the title tune, with straight snare drum socks providing a nice contrast to the reedist’s emotional overblowing. “Here At!” finds the bass clarinet weaving an Arabic line in high and middle registers, while the rhythm section members enter into an Africanized mode — sounding as if one is playing a stringed ngoni and the other a bugarabu drum.

Rosen’s percussion collection almost gives him as many textures to play with as the two rhythm partners have on THREE. But he’s not alone in unexpected pulsation. On “Requiem for Anne Frank”, for example, Simmons’ English horn morphs from trumpet [!] suggestions to snake charmer tones as Marcus sounds out the melancholy, accented theme on baritone.

“Avant Garde Destruct” is, true to its title, a note-crammed dissonant romp with pulsating Sunny Murray-like accents and Milford Graves-like bell ringing from Rosen, some chromatic tongue fluttering from Simmons on alto, and baritone output from Marcus that leapfrogs from R&B-inflected honks to freeboppy trills and doits.

Although written by Marcus, “Cool Burn” features an ESP Disk-like lilting lope with almost out-of-tune asides from both saxmen. Rosen shakes his bell tree again, Marcus whoops and snorts on bari and Simmons uses broken octaves to decorates the top line.

On other pieces individual output ranges from Simmons’ accented sax lines that twin Ornette Coleman’s of the 1960s, to wild, rolling paradiddles and flams from Rosen that relate as much to Gene Krupa’s showstoppers as to more modern, post-bop drumming.

Seldom before has Marcus show off his prowess to such an extent as on these two trio CDs. Maybe he needs the right partners to egg him on.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ithem: 1. Ithem take 1 2. Under the Wire 3. Secret Oceans 4. Here At! 5. Ithem take 2

Personnel: Ithem: Michael Marcus (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); William Parker (bass); Denis Charles (drums)

Track Listing: Three: 1. Furtura 2. Tonal Magnitude 3. Cool Burn 4. Bring On the Funk 5. 12 Seasons of Love 6. Avant Garde Destruct 7. ‘Round Midnight 8. Requiem for Anne Frank

Personnel: Three: Michael Marcus (saxello and baritone saxophone); Sonny Simmons (alto saxophone and English horn); Jay Rosen (drums and percussion)