The cover art on this release features the quartet members (seasoned improvisers all) wearing the dreaded and by now tiringly familiar face masks imposed on us all by the pandemic. The "Blue Reality" alluded to is made fairly obvious by this imagery (which is duplicated in the inner sleeve), and while a listener might expect some doom and gloom music or a series of libertarian angry outbursts at the advice from health authorities and the restrictive requirement of this situation that nobody, but nobody cares for, what we get is a much needed and much appreciated set of tracks that are soothing and transcendental for these dark times. The offering is, one could say, a concise musical equivalent of the Decameron, a work of entertaining and therapeutic literature written by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio during the devastating Black Death in Florence in the 1348.
The album starts with a lullaby of sorts, a piece entitled "Love Exists Everywhere" that is comforting and uplifting, with a sparse opening flourish of cymbals, bells and vibes that is then supported by a generously voluptuous bass flute statement, then a softly sinuous tenor saxophone line that winds us into the heart of this lyrical track.
The relaxation is somewhat disrupted in the next track, "Chartreuse Tulips", with an active drums-vibes- bass clarinet opening statement, but it's more like a momentary quickening of the pulse and the album's trajectory continues mostly in the therapeutic vein, as track 3, "Joe's Train", features Joe McPhee's tenor articulating a gently forceful statement doubled by Michael Marcus's tenor. The piece is reminiscent of ideas from Tenor, an early solo work by McPhee that stands as a pivotal recording moment in the post-modern evolution of improvised music in the jazz tradition.
Four more tracks follow, each distinguished by the skillful compositional conceptions of the band members (each of whom contributes at least one tune) and the expressive and sensitive interactions of Warren Smith's drums and vibes, Michael Marcus's tenor sax, bass clarinet and bass flute, Joe McPhee's tenor sax, soprano sax and alto clarinet, and Jay Rosen's drums and percussion.
The music, while serving to evoke or provoke a sense of release from the above mentioned "Blue Reality", takes us to the heart of blues expression which is a shout of joy amid pain that celebrates, at bottom, the human experience and our ability to persevere and thrive even amid adversity. The piece of the album that brings out this message most clearly is probably "East Side Dilemma" (the tracks were recorded at the East Side Studios in NYC on Nov. 21, 2020, BTW). This track recalls the keening and spiritually satisfying complaints of John Coltrane in his late recordings (I'm thinking of Stellar Regions, in particular) with their motivic conciseness given lots of diverse spins by the instrumentalists as they dig into the heart of the matter and leave the listener in a much needed state of acceptance and surrender.
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