September 27, 2023

August in March
Imani Records IR 6120 2023

Projecting a distinctive sound on Brooklyn-based Ember’s August in March is Caleb Wheeler Curtis’ frequent switch among stritch, trumpet and reed trumpet. A member of The Captain Black Big Band, Curtis is one of the few players since Rahsaan Roland Kirk to concentrate on this woodwind, but manipulates its crying tone to contrast with passages expressed by his own trumpet lines, often on the same track. Amplified textural glows contributed by the other Ember members include thick and responsive strums from bassist Noah Garabedian, an educator who has worked with Ravi Coltrane, and the press rolls and rebounds of drummer Vincent Sperrazza, part of Michael Formanak’s groups.

With diversity but a concentration of purpose, the disc’s 11 tracks provide thoroughly contemporary instances of tripartite and responsive improvising. Integrating fundamental and free sequences, trio members don’t neglect tunes’ rhythmic or regular functions but interrupt linear movement with exploratory diversions. A track such as “Snake Tune” has Curtis squeezing ever ascending brass tones backed by double bass thumps, only to rearrange the sonic furniture with yearning reed cries after he’s joined by Sperrazza’s irregular drum pulse. Or on “Angular Saxon”, exposition intensity increases as thin horizontal motion propelled by positioned drum slaps and dedicated string stops is challenged by high-pitched reed smears that interact enough with the bassist’s and drummer’s output to quicken the narrative so that all three climax simultaneously.

Not to exaggerate the horn player’s influence however. Not only are the compositions evenly divided among the three, but each trio member also contributes to the session’s direction. The evolution of “Flotation Device and the Shivers” for instance, is most dependent on martial-style strokes from Sperrazza and stentorian pumps from Garabedian. Meanwhile the stop/start finale of “Break Tune” preserves its initial gentleness due to the Garabedian’s sensitive walking and Sperrazza’s judicious use of isolated stick beating and cymbal coloration, despite Curtis’ reed squeaks and honks.

Its unsure what the disc title means, except referencing its month of release. However one could also say that this is an august as well as an ambulatory session

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Suspense 2. Snake Tune 3. Frank in the Morning.4. August in March 5. Angular Saxon 6. No Signal .7. Easy Win .8. Sink and Swim 9. Flotation Device and the Shivers 10. Break Tune 11. Sam Cooke

Personnel: Caleb Wheeler Curtis (stritch, trumpet and reed trumpet); Noah Garabedian (bass) and Vincent Sperrazza (drums)