Sabir Mateen

Jubilee Ensemble
NotTwo MW 862-2

By Ken Waxman

One of the visionary improvisers loosely affiliated with bassist William Parker’s Lower East Side projects, multi-reedist Sabir Mateen is often featured with his own bands or contributing to-the-point solos in other small groups. Recoded at the Stone in 2007, this CD on the other hand is a rare and valuable instance of Mateen’s writing for a crack 15-piece ensemble, which he leads as well as playing saxophones, flutes and clarinets. Consisting of two extended suites and a couple of shorter pieces, these taut yet expansive themes 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 (billed as vocal colourturist). 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 (courtesy of Matt Lavelle and Lewis ”Flip” Barnes) until both sections connect following watery vibrations from tuba player Mike Guilford.

The strings’ inner mournfulness is put to good use on “Shades of Brother Leroy Jenkins”, performed the month after the legendary 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. The latter’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 from the five reedits, including baritone slurs from the underappreciated Joe Rigby, the suite is almost a throwback to ‘70s rhythmic exercises by Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. Propelling the performance away from faux-Africanized percussion and chanting, King’s playing provides calming influences and confirms the tune’s jazz roots.

Jubilee Ensemble convincingly demonstrates that Mateen’s composing is at the same high level as his playing.

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 April 2014