The Sabir Mateen

Jubilee Ensemble
NotTwo MW 862-2

Adam Lane Trio

Absolute Horizon

NoBusiness NBCD61

Black Host

Life In the Sugar Candle Mines

Northern Spy NS 039

By Ken Waxman

From the time he relocated to NYC from Virginia about a decade ago, alto saxophonist Darius Jones made a major impact on the local scene, partnering with the likes of pianist Matthew Shipp, plus releasing acclaimed CDs as a leader. But Jones is a collaborative musician and these notable discs find him using his considerable talents to help realize others’ visions.

To be honest, on 2007’s Jubilee Ensemble, Jones merely functions as a sideman, part of a 15-member ensemble, including five reed players, gathered to extend the compositions of Sabir Mateen. A long-time associate of visionary downtowners like bassist William Parker, Mateen, who plays saxophones, clarinets and flutes here, has composed taut yet expansive themes, which bolster the continued validity of free jazz without slipping into inchoate blowing.

Most laudable is the two-part “A Better Place”, which cycles though several moods until it reaches a stop-time climax at the two-thirds mark. String power pumps, slurred brass triplets and shaking bells gradually swell to an optimistic finale, helped immeasurably by lyrical cries from vocalist “M” Nadar. This is an appropriate conclusion to its despondent exposition, expressed in counterpoint by Mateen’s alto clarinet and Shiau-Shu Yu’s cello. Later the vocalist’s whispering admonition to “have a little faith” is contrasted by jagged string shrieks, gulping reed timbres, and Don Ayler-like trumpet insouciance until both sections connect following watery vibrations from tubaist Mike Guilford.

The strings’ inner mournfulness is put to good use on “Shades of Brother Leroy Jenkins”, performed the month after that violinist’s death. As agitated as it is reflective, the piece cleverly unites rasps, rubs and ratchets from various instruments into a howl of anguish, then downshifts to plainsong via Nadar’s keening, plus lyrical obbligatos from pianist Raymond King. King’s power chording provides the straightforward bedrock during Mateen’s other major statement, the three-part “We Can Do”. With its load of shaking percussion, chanted phraseology and stack of high-intensity saxophone solos, the suite is almost a throwback to ‘70s rhythmic exercise by Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. Propelling the performance away from faux-Africanized percussion and chanting, King playing provides calming influences and confirms the tunes’ jazz roots.

Literally more upfront, Jones’ alto is the only horn on Absolute Horizon. This 2010 trio date, under bassist Adam Lane’s name has the same cast as Big Gurl, Jones’ second CD, with drummer Vijay Anderson the only variable. With the seven tracks attributed to all, the result is a balanced three-way program, with each component snugly attached to the others, whether the outcome is a hypnotic, Eastern-inflected rhythmic piece like the title tune or a restful essay in floating, moderato swing such as “Apparent Horizon”. This poised equilibrium shades most of the performances, with each track containing either a saxophone or a bass solo. Anderson astutely maintains the beat, then stays pretty much out of the soloists’ way. For Lane, “Bioluminescence” is the stand-out, since it appears that he’s feeding his bass strokes through a fuzz box for maximal distortion. Jones’ response takes the form of dramatic slurs and snarls, but with aplomb that maintains chromatic focus, as if the bassist’s grinding oscillations aren’t out of the ordinary. Lane returns the compliment on “Light”, as his steadfast stops keep the piece’s walking pace despite Jones’ decision to divide his solo between split tones and bagpipe-like tremolos. Jones demonstrates his prowess throughout. Whether he torques his playing with extensions or sticks close to the melody, his expression cleaves to affecting blues and swing references.

This combination of searching expressionism and hard-core jazz sensibility is most spectacularly expressed on last year’s Life In the Sugar Candle Mines. Featuring Jones and keyboardist Cooper-Moore, who was on the saxophonist’s debut CD, Black Host is filled out by drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, two of NYC’s busiest jazzers, and guitarist Brandon Seabrook, whose allegiance encompasses string-shredding rock. Considering Cooper-Moore’s great familiarity with folkloric sounds, Niggenkemper skill with notated music, and Cleaver being listed as “sound designer”, the concept, ensures that the Black Host sound is almost completely original. Besides the thrash-rock and prog-rock inferences that arise, acerbic free jazz noise-making is on the program as well. This is most prominent on “Ayler’s Children”, where Cooper-Moore’s dynamic darting, octave jumps and percussive pounding is reminiscent of the heyday of energy music. At the same time, while the other front liners respond with staccato intensity, the continuum is harmonized rather than splintered. Elsewhere the quintet can be moodily amorous like on the concluding “May Be Home”. With Cooper-Moore’s glissandi constantly romantic and Jones’ heavy vibrato nearly heart-wrenching, Niggenkemper relaxes into spare accompaniment, resulting in a piece that is as atmospheric as it is aleatory.

Sideman, featured soloist or band participant, these disks demonstrate Jones’ conciliatory attitudes. Coupled with his unbeatable talent for innovation, the saxophonist should contribute much more to improvised music in the next while.

Tracks: Life: Hover; Ayler’s Children; Citizen Rose; Test-Sunday; Amsterdam/Frames Gromek; Wrestling; May Be Home

Personnel: Life: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Cooper-Moore: piano and synthesizer; Brandon Seabrook: guitar; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums and sound design

Tracks: Absolute: Absolute Horizon; Stars; The Great Glass Elevator; Run To Infinity; Apparent Horizon; Bioluminescence; Light

Personnel: Absolute: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Adam Lane: bass; Vijay Anderson: drums

Tracks: Jubilee: We Can Do Part One; We Can Do Part Two; 3. We Can Do Part Three; A Joy; A Better Place Part One; A Better Place Part Two; Shades of Brother Leroy Jenkins

Personnel: Jubilee: Lewis “Flip” Barnes: trumpet; Matt Lavelle: trumpet, bass clarinet; Masahiko Kono: trombone; Mike Guilford: tuba; Joe Rigby: soprano and baritone saxophones, flute; Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Ras Moshe: tenor saxophone, flutes; Sabir Mateen: tenor and alto saxophones, Bb and alto clarinets, flutes, poetry; Raymond A. King: piano; Derek Washington: violin; Shiau-Shu Yu: cello; Jane Wang: bass, cello; Clif Jackson: bass; Charles Downs (Rashid Bakr): drums; “M” Nadar: vocal colourturist

—For The New York City Jazz Record February 2014