Suns of Cosmic Consciousness
Aztac Records AZ-001

Biting off more than they can chew, the members of Solar have produced a brave but ultimately frustrating CD. Although you can’t fault the journeymen of this co-op trio wanting to expose all their talents, they follow so many musical avenues on SUNS OF COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS that quite a few of them end up at dead ends.

Simply put, if the band had concentrated on showcasing original tunes it would have been one thing, had it proven how it reinterprets standards, jazz and otherwise, it would have been another. Yet the 12 tunes encompass so many styles and influences –pieces written by Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Kurt Weill and funky bluesman Earl King among others are played – that a coherent Solar identity never emerges.

Certainly the three have racked up more than enough varied experiences. Pianist Eli Yamin, has been a member of Illinois Jacquet Big Band and a Glenn Miller ghost band, been a musical director for touring shows, organized a program on the blues for New York school featuring tubaist Bob Stewart and vocalist Kate McGarry and played in a tribute band with the late drummer Walter Perkins –subject of the most accomplish composition on this disc.

Bassist and sometime vocalist Adam Bernstein worked in jazz with Perkins and clarinetist Perry Robinson and was in the pop band All God’s Children. Andy Demos, who plays drums, tabla and tenor saxophone here, was in the band Tiny Lights and participates in dance performances.

Confident in their originality the three can create memorable material, as they show on Yamin’s “Perk Up - for Walter Perkins” and Bernstein’s rather ponderously titled “Prototype For Constructive Dialogue”.

The former, honoring the trapsman whose playing partners ranged from mainstreamers Art Farmer and Jim Hall to experimenters Robinson and William Parker, is an unselfconscious swinger that appears to be firmly in the standard jazz piano trio mode but offers unexpected surprises. Among them are chunky bass lines from Bernstein, focused bounces and ruffs from Demos and sharp, glancing arpeggios widened with Monkish fills from Yamin. The later tune begins like a high classical rondo. But it’s subverted by two-handed piano cadences, fat drum beats and strummed portamento overtones from the composer, given added emphasis with swirling right-handed decorations from the pianist, and summed up with all-inclusive octave exploration.

Unfortunately few of the other originals measure up. Most stick so close to the middle of the road that they could be painted white highway lines. “Samba De Aztac”, for example, seems to be an overly dramatic compendium of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock licks, splayed and double-timed, but not performed any differently than they would be by 100 other piano trios.

It’s almost the same story with the covers. Sun Ra’s “Love in Outer Space” is decidedly earthbound with a reading that substitutes Ra’s quirkiness with an Ahmad Jamal-style, night club rendition, complete with hand drumming. For some reason Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” is given a Latin treatment on top of pedal point bass. Charles Mingus’ “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” loses its social commentary to become a pseudo-Dixieland burlesque with piles of rickety tick piano chords, drum backbeat and slap bass beats.

Even more dire are the two vocal numbers. Beginning King’s “Come On” with a tough Minngusian bluesy bass solo is original until the momentum is destroyed as Bernstein vocalizes the word in a way that sure wouldn’t get him a gig in the Big Easy. “Reincarnation 1968” lives up to its title with two female singers, including McGarry chanting phrases with a repetitive melody that could have been found on a contemporary Pharoah Sanders session or George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”.

Maybe Solar will score next time out. Right now, the best advice for the band may be: be yourself.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Samba De Aztac 2. Reincarnation 1968 3. Remember Rockefeller At Attica 4. In, Out 5. Waltz On The Hudson 6. Rhythm-a-ning 7. Perk Up - for Walter Perkins 8. September Song 9. Prototype For Constructive Dialogue 10. Solar 2002 11. Come On/ 12. Love In Outer Space

Personnel: Eli Yamin (piano); Adam Bernstein (bass); Andy Demos (drums, tabla and tenor saxophone)