Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit
Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Bagatellen
Posthumous Peter Kowald releases keep coming down the pike and this one looks very promising on paper. The first three surnames on the roll call require no introduction to regular Bags readers. The identity and credentials of Spirit are probably another matter. Patterning a sparse style that draws on both New Thing and European Improv customs, his light pattering touch sometimes feels a bit flimsy and transparent, particularly during the ensemble’s higher density moments. Fortunately, in a group like this one with two strong-willed bassists vying and colluding, it’s a strategy that complements rather than hinders. His brief solo drum foray “Obo” suggests time spent shedding to the sounds of Don Moye and Denis Charles, and like both he’s prone to gruff vocal commentary in conjunction with his stick play. Pale shades of John Stevens also arise in the pointillist side of Spirit’s approach, though I’m not completely sold on his cachet as a contender.
Taped in the spring of 2000 at the tail end of Kowald’s historic 3-month U.S. tour tour, the disc comprises 17 studio tracks, most hovering in the two to four-minute range, that cycle by quickly. In addition to a generous array of full-quartet cuts there are also a handful of pared down improvisations. They vary from the busy duet “Cracked Mirrors…” that recalls Smith and Kowald’s seminal meeting on Balance Point Acoustics, to interstitial pieces like “Sufi Prayer,” a disappointing fragment that ends up little more than Eneidi making raspy percussive sounds through his mouthpiece. Longer excursions like the title track and “Pull, Push, Jump (Up)” work better and yield outcomes that are more memorable. There’s a terrific segment during “New Music Pygmies” where saxophone keypads, bass strings and cymbals mimic the delicate pitches of a Mbuti mbira choir. “The Unforeseen is What is Beautiful” unfolds as six-minute audio slideshow for extended bass techniques, Eneidi adding pursed reed percussion and Spirit mixing whorled colors with sticks and cymbals.
Eneidi’s alto is as raw and recalcitrant as ever throughout the set, ululating in rhythmic vertical geysers and clocking accelerated speeds. Jimmy Lyons’ vernacular still weighs heavy in his horn speech. On pieces like the choppy “Black Dots” tightly fluttering phrases harden swiftly into piercing multiphonics. Clear studio sound captures both Smith and Kowald beautifully and the two cleanly divide into stereo channels to aid in identification. Their elastic give and take and parallel pizzicato lines on the closing “Easinesses Found” draw on a deep rapport and together they make formidable harmonic union. There’s a lot of strong music here, but the sum still seems curiously less than the parts. It’s more like a patchwork of outtakes strung together into the semblance of a program and lacks an overarching album feel as a result. Reservations aside, there’s still enough to recommend the disc. At the very least, it’s a welcome chance for one more visit with the dearly departed Kowald.
~ Derek Taylor