Cosmologic - III
Circumvention Music 045

Five years on in its evolution as a band, it’s evident that Cosmologic is heading towards a musical crossroads. Nurtured in the rich cross-fertilization of sonic ideas that evolved from San Diego’s Trummerflora Collective, the band’s improv chops were stroked by interaction with the likes of trombonist George Lewis and reedist Vinny Golia. Added to this were influences ranging form so-called serious music, theatre troupes, rock bands, straight jazz and electronica.

COSMOLOGIC III still has the same free flow and invention of the band’s earlier CDs, but as notable as many of the eight tunes here are, now that it’s at chapter three, the combo itself and its members lack certain individuality. Trombonist Michael Dessen’s move to the East Coast a couple of years ago may have something to do with this, although taken in isolation his solos are still powerful, as is his comfortable interaction with reedist Jason Robinson.

But when one tune follows another, you start to wonder how Cosmologic views itself. On Robinson’s “Shadows At Night” the combination of Scott Walton’s heavy bass ostinato and resonating trombone suggests the Jazz Crusaders’ West Coast funk, while the head for Dessen’s “Septurnal Spell” appear to glide to-and-fro between poppy Cool Jazz of the 1950s and more rooted small group rhythms of contemporary East Coast bands like Mark Helias’ trio. Then when Robinson’s abrasive altissimo timbres move into glossolalia, it doesn’t quite mesh with the trombonist’s heavy low-pitched grace notes and the steady swing from drummer Nathan Hubbard.

This shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstruction, since the quartet has already made a gesture towards redefining itself by adding guitarist Al Scholl on this CD. Largely self-taught, the guitarist, who plays in Hubbard’s large Skeleton Key Orchestra, offer both rock-style, distorted pulsations and brittle Free Music interludes to the tracks.

Reverb power, often couched in squeaking, electronic-style oscillations adds heft to some tunes, but there’s also hesitancy – perhaps relating to the integration of a new color into an established configuration – when his dissident string fills join the others in a composition. Sharp, vocalized guitar flailing matches coordinated horn line and marimba patterning in the second half of “Blacon”. Yet both on that tune and “The Wrangler”, the full performance breaks the line into parallel pulses. Scholl’s showcase vamping and fills are isolated from the others. In the case of the later tune for instance, steady flams and ruffs from Hubbard mix with horns in double counterpoint at an entirely different tempo than the guitarist’s single-note plinks.

Besides all this the CD’s nadir is reached with “Put Some Butter On It (for Malachi Favors Maghostus)”. Written by Hubbard and played by Walton, this tribute to the deceased Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) bassist is a funereal, mostly lower-case collection of fairly ordinary plucking surrounding a few arco notes in the middle. Favors’ playing was always more innovative and rhythmically exciting then this. Why Walton, whose steady, often sul ponticello patterning, and Hubbard, whose instinctive, occasionally polyrhythmic beat, meet most every other challenge for a rhythm section would think the tune a proper salute to the AEC bassist is a mystery.

If COSMOLOGIC III was a first effort, praise would be unstinting. But while enjoyable, as a third CD it suggests thinking about group dynamics from the band members are immediately in order.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. X Marks The Spot 2. Shadows At Night (Notes From A Quarry) 3. Septurnal Spell 4. Put Some Butter On It (for Malachi Favors Maghostus) 5. Indianhead Canyon 6. The Wrangler 7. Wolf In Sheeps Clothing 8. Blacon (Beyond The Divide)

Personnel: Michael Dessen (trombone and percussion); Jason Robinson (tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet, and percussion); Al Scholl (electric and acoustic guitar); Scott Walton (bass); Nathan Hubbard (drums, marimba, toy glockenspiel and percussion)