On a first glance at the title we're automatically reminded of a milestone of minimalism by another famous Steve; but there is nothing in this work by Steve Swell that can be reported on as "minimalist". Rightly applauded as a virtuoso trombonist, the man is also a discerning composer, this CD fully supporting our assumption. Picking Olivier Messiaen as the subject of a tribute is in itself a brave move; assembling a quintet of top-notch instrumentalists to concretize the sterling configurations and the spontaneous germinations implied by a partially notated score might even represent a danger, all the more in a live context. One can't completely manage the "ego factor" in a grouping of talents, and we have had our fair shares of big-named disorganization hidden under the umbrella of some sort of prestigious "project". However — as Stephen Rush correctly writes in the liner notes — these artists are "talking at once, but listen". Difficult to ask for more if the outcome is on such a level of complexity and intensity.
Let's name the players, then. Besides the principal on trombone and aerophone we have Jason Kao Hwang (violin, viola, electronics), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Jim Pugliese (drums, percussion), Rob Brown (alto sax) and Robert Boston (piano, organ). The opus comprises five movements, but make no mistake: there are no actual breathers for unequipped audiences. This is not music to use as a backcloth for conversation; it requires the ability to keep parallel focuses on diverse courses over an extended period. You must soak up the multifarious rhythmic structures, the outpourings distinguishing an often bewildering counterpoint, the performers' individual idioms, the shifts between sonic typologies. It takes a moment to enter the "superficial pronouncement area" when the brain gets shut in front of something not grasped and, for that reason, disparaged according to a rigid code of interpretation. In other words, what cannot be instantly classified is doomed to the oblivion of the aurally restricted.
Music For Six Musicians will not end like that. Several flashes of veritable acoustic enlightenment constitute the reward for the scrupulous study of its implications, for Swell carved a niche of uniqueness on the wall that separates modern chamber from cultivated improvisation. I could churn out pictorial descriptions that would waste both my time and yours, but let's leave it at this: when conscious beings are entertaining a frank discussion around certain coordinates, the most intelligent attitude for a newcomer is sitting quietly, listen silently, and learn things to hold within for the days requiring a bigger dose of inner strength. If you are looking for "erudite gibberish" materials, turn the wheel and step on the gas pedal: we're speaking seriousness over here.
Comments and Feedback: