Roy Campbell Ensemble

Akhenaten Suite
AUM Fidelity 045

Named for Akhenaten IV, a fabled pharaoh who ruled Egypt around 1300 B.C., this seven-part suite, composed by brassman Roy Campbell premiered in this riveting live performance at New York’s Vision Festival. Although lodged firmly in the territory where modern jazz is tinged with Arabic echoes, the sensitivity of each player is such that trappings of mythologized exotica are avoided and replaced with first-class improvisational flights.

Serpentine themes that define many of the suite’s transitions are given impetus not only from Campbell – who manipulates tart trumpet expositions and gently muted flugelhorn coloration with equal finesse – but also by the contrapuntal spiccato sweep of Billy Bang’s violin. When Campbell’s distinctive half-valve effects aren’t paired in double counterpoint with Bang’s sobbing sul ponticello runs or hyperactive string multiphonics, then lower-keyed unison harmonies bond gentling trumpet runs with chiming vibraharp strokes from Bryan Carrott. Backbeat rhythms from drummer Zen Matsuura and springy double stops from bassist Hillard Greene pulse without becoming overbearing. Both keep the beat supple enough to undulate into different pitches and tones without it turning around or disintegrating.

If a short section involving Campbell dramatically sounding the Egyptian arghul, or single-reed cane clarinet, threatens to unbalance the improvisation-folklore mix, then Greene’s walking bass line from the bottom, followed by the layering of Bang’s discursive glissandi runs, and finally Campbell’s mid-range plunger gustiness, restore the equilibrium.

Like certain architectural feats of Ancient Egypt, Akhenaten Suite is memorable not for the potential aggrandizement that underlies building this musical monument, but for, in this case, the outstanding craftsmanship and talent that combined for its practical creation.

— Ken Waxman

— MusicWorks Issue #104