Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Group "Transit" Scales Improvisational Heights

Some of the new improv/jazz out there today does not follow the head-solos-head format that has been so pervasive in the music. It goes somewhere else, and in the process breaks down the distinction contained within that format. Instead, the music takes what I'd like to call a "concert-gagaku" approach to things. I mean that there is a sensitivity to the combination of sounds and instruments (the "gagaku" part) and a sort of intuitive, mentally mapped-out approach to what each performance will accomplish (the "concert-improv" part).

Everything is a head and nothing is a head. All of it is soloing and none of it is. There is also an almost ritual fervor with which the musicians go about their art. Japanese gagaku is I think the oldest surviving example of such a music-making path. I refer to the heightened awareness of the importance of the sound emission of the moment as a kind of cosmic reality outside of everyday life, and the intense commitment to that reality. Whether the musicians involved would put it that way I'm not sure. It is that exacting ritualistic intensity of purpose that comes through to me on this end, regardless. And that makes for some extraordinary music.

I allude above to a new CD by Transit, called Quadrologues (Clean Feed). Transit is a quartet with Reuben Radding on bass, a player with big ears and the ability to execute what he hears. He did a remarkable thing a while ago. Once a month he offered a free download of an improv session, each with a different lineup of players, for an entire year. I've listen to them all and they give me great respect for his approach. (Google Mr. Radding's site if you want to hear them.) On some of those is trumpeter Nate Wooley, who makes up one-fourth of Transit here as well. Wooley most certainly is also a musician of discerning ears and carefully creative execution. He has done some nice work with The Magical Listening Hour, a wide-open chamber improv group with trombonist Steve Swell and others. Both Radding and Wooley bring to Transit that ineffable set of qualities I am talking about.

Nate and Reuben are joined in the group by drummer Jeff Arnal and alto sax man Seth Misterika. I don't believe I've had the pleasure of hearing either before but they add a cosmic energy and concept to the proceedings on a par with the others. The CD that results has a flow and musical logic that comes out of the immediate moment of the performance, yet stands up well to repeated listenings. It's as if the players had a clear mental map of the music they wanted to make, and then went ahead and realized it all in sound.

I was taken by Quadrologues. It has that certain something the best improv gives you today. I hope they continue to perform together and I get to hear it!

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